Strive Against

Sadie Throckmorton has ambitions for the title of Supreme General. Unlike me, she’s about to get what she wants.

Based off Mage: the Awakening, a tabletop game of modern sorcery, in which player characters Awaken to their powers through resonance with one of five metaphysical towers and by writing their names on it. This is the story of my first character’s Awakening in our Storyteller’s alternate universe. (Doesn’t require any more knowledge than that to understand.)

Sadie Throckmorton has a flare for the dramatic and in that way, she and I are the same. But that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, I don’t have my parents handcuffed in front of a firing squad, but she does. I wouldn’t have chosen to stage their execution on the Naval Air Base runway, but she has. I would have waited for this spring rainstorm to pass, and would have dispensed altogether with the cameras broadcasting to the entire city, but that’s just not her style. Then again, I am not a usurping totalitarian at the height of a military coup.

But Sadie Throckmorton has ambitions for the title of Supreme General. Unlike me, she’s about to get what she wants.

“Ready!” Throckmorton’s voice rings out, punctuated by a timely rumble of thunder. She’s had a Private bring an umbrella to hold for her, keeping her tied-back blond hair and olive green coat dry. He looked terrified when he opened it up to discover he had snagged one with a bright pink and red floral print, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

The firing squad lined up next to her raises rifles.

In my arms, my younger sister, Teofila, whimpers. She has her head pressed against my chest, but I know her eyes, like mine, are glued to the figures of our parents, silhouetted alone on the tarmac, a thousand miles away on the other side of an iron line of soldiers. Despite their sodden blue coats, missing caps, and stripped medals, my mama and papa have their chins upraised and shoulders squared, proud airmen until the end. Rain courses through my hair and down my face, mingling with the tears on my cheeks. I grit my teeth, helpless with rage and frustration.

Mama’s fiery gaze is only for her executioner. “Sadie, you’re going to run this city into the ground,” she hisses. “My only regret is not getting to watch you burn with it.

Throckmorton looks distinctly unimpressed. “That’s Supreme General to you.” Mama spits at her feet.

For his part, Papa’s gaze finds us. More than anything, he looks sad, resigned. They fought so long against Throckmorton’s proposed military dictatorship and all of it amounted to nothing. To this. “Teo, Iggy. Take care of each other.”

The understanding that my parents are about to die crashes over me again and again and again. A sob catches in my chest and lodges there like a sharp blade. I nod.

“Take aim!” Throckmorton continues. Rifles rattle as safeties are flicked off. I can’t even identify those women and men commanded to execute my family; their faces seem shrouded in black. The backs of my eyes and the insides of my ears buzz.

Papa faces front again. Mama mouths “I love you” at us. Throckmorton draws breath for that final word.

“No!” For moment, I don’t recognize Teo’s scream. My arms are empty and she’s leaping between soldiers, bulling her way toward Mama and Papa, throwing herself in front of them, arms outstretched. “No!”

I’m reaching for her, but I haven’t moved. A high-pitched whine of feedback from the cameras splits the air. I squeeze my eyes shut.


An engine is roaring, volume increasing, underscored with that distinct whine of terminal velocity. Louder, louder. Then, impact as a bi-plane crashes headfirst into the runway, exploding in a fireball of fuel and metal shrapnel. So close that the ground bucks beneath my feet, sending me stumbling. Searing heat licks at my arms and my face.

I duck, shielding my head, bits of hot gravel bouncing off my hands. When I dare to look, another plane follows, bursting itself on the same crash site as the first. Then another, and more, until the air fills with the steady hum of incoming planes. They’re bombers and seaplanes, trainers and rotocraft, sleek and trim or huge and menacing, raining down and destroying themselves against the ground. They begin to stack up, the pile growing and growing until it’s as tall as a house, as an office building, as a tower, before the onslaught comes to a halt.

In the quiet that follows, rain whispers against hot metal, the deluge fusing the mass of aircraft together, rusting them before my eyes. Now they look more like the old war era craft displayed in local museums. Smoke drifts low on the breeze, coating the back of my throat. I crane my neck back, watching as skeletal pilots slump in their seats or half-fall out of busted cockpits. They wear tattered bomber jackets and grin at me, eye sockets wide and empty. I hope that none of them know me.

From above, there’s a pop and a drawn out hiss. A bright red flare burns at the height of the pile, the stick lodged in the cockpit window of the topmost plane. I recognize the craft as the one I wanted to fly as a child: a Hellcat, though its chrome and black flanks are now streaked with soot, its tale crumpled and wings shorn off. My heart aches to know it will never fly again.

My grip slips off slick metal and gravel rolls away from my feet as I begin to climb. The tower of planes creaks and groans with my added weight, but holds, water running down the sides threatening to dislodge me.

I’m maybe a third of the way up when one of the skeletons speaks to me. “What do you want?”

I start but manage not to lose my precarious hold. The skeleton slumps over its dashboard, peering at me through muddy glass. “I want…” What do I want? I can’t remember. Without answering, I continue upward.

Another skeleton higher up repeats the litany. “What do you want?”

Irritated, I snap. “I don’t know! That flare, maybe.” The dead pilot does not respond as I pass.

At the top, I stand upright on shaking legs. The tower sways below me and I bend my knees to get my balance. The flare hisses and spits in the rain, still glowing bright. Beyond the light, another skeleton sits in the Hellcat’s cockpit. It’s wearing my clothes. It’s looking right at me.

Those sockets are black, bottomless pits. Tears well up from within and drip down its bony cheeks. With my voice, it asks, “What do you want?”

Chest heaving from the climb, I blink rainwater from my eyes. At last, I admit it. “I want power” —I snatch the flare from the window corner, pointing it toward the sky— “to protect my family” —a twist of my wrist forms the first letters— “and to kick Sadie Throckmorton” —my voice rises until I’m shouting, screaming to the empty runway— “in the fucking teeth!”

Now my name hangs across the sky in burning red letters above the Hellcat, suspended on nothing at all. “I am Ignado Savio Alvarez and I am not helpless!

I crack the flare stick over my knee and cast the broken pieces down the tower. They bounce off plane hulls with hollow thuds. I whisper, “I want my parents back.”

At my ear, I hear Papa’s quiet voice. “Things will be okay.”

Followed by Mama’s voice at the other. “But not just yet.”

When I come to, the sky has turned orange as the storm clears out, brighter than I’ve ever seen the sky look. My cheek is pressed against the wet, rough tarmac where I’ve fallen; my gaze follows the intricacies of the tar’s physical structure for what feels like an eternity. Nothing has ever looked so beautiful. All the while the metallic scent of gun smoke hangs in the air.

Above me stands Supreme General Sadie Throckmorton. She has her arms crossed and a sour expression directed my way. “Get up,” she growls.

I try to comply, but the world tilts and I slide back down. Having none of it, Throckmorton snags my upper arm and drags me to my unsteady feet.

Gripping my chin between vice-like fingers, she turns my head to take in the scene around us. “Look what you’ve done.” Instead of anger, she practically purrs. Somehow, from her, this is worse than fury.

Around us, bodies litter the runway. Every soldier, the firing squad, all the camera crew, even the poor Private, with that flowery umbrella flipped over next to his outstretched hand. My heart jerks painfully until I find Teo, sprawled like a newborn fawn next to the corpses of our parents. She seems unhurt, but she has Mama’s head cradled in her lap and can’t stop sobbing.

“Pretty impressive,” Throckmorton observes. She hasn’t let go of my arm and I fear she will sense my shiver at the praise. “Could use a bit more control, though.”

“Wh-what are you talking about?” I manage. Hope.

Throckmorton points at Teo, who flinches at the motion. “You protected her. With magic. Or something.” There’s a nasty glint of ambition or mania in her blue eyes. “And you killed everyone else. Almost got me too, if Private Salazar hadn’t taken the hit.”

I inwardly curse Private Salazar at the same time that I feel horrified about what I did. Glancing around, I rationalize that they were all accessory to my parents’ murder and decide that I don’t feel sorry. A memory nudges my mind – of replacing life with death, of compressing space between heart chambers, stilling every single one to silence. I push this away.

“You two are coming to live with me,” Throckmorton continues, tone gleeful, like we’re children again and she’s still our favorite aunt. Like my parents are still alive. Like she didn’t just murder them. She pulls Teo up, who doesn’t manage to move Mama’s head from her lap in time. The corpse flops to the tarmac and I close my eyes, gorge rising in my throat. When I open them again, Throckmorton has placed her palm on Teo’s shoulder, looking at me meaningfully. She squeezes until Teo winces, biting her lip.

“Do you understand?”

I nod, instantly catching on. Teo and I are in more danger than I can comprehend. Her safety depends on my compliance.

“Good!” Throckmorton steers us toward a nearby jeep, yet when she tries the ignition, it won’t start. Despite this, she’s still in high spirits. “Best to get a cleanup crew out here to take care of this mess, hm?”

It’s a long walk to the Command Center from here, but we start marching.

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