Chandra sizzled congenially with jealousy and remorse over her parents' gifts for invention. The pair were near inbred in their shared ancestry of the legacy of inventiveness, and Chandra couldn't even fit three gears together. "Three gears together won't turn," she recalled her father telling her. She had been five, and that didn't make sense. The seconds were agonizing, more for the waiting than for the high-energy metallic shower that was bidding to permanently pockmark her sensitive child skin.
The disgustingly het white Nalaar couple—who had chosen an Indian name for their daughter despite having never heard of India—had instilled in their daughter the need for her to apply herself to practicing a useful craft despite her being a girl of merely eleven. Tinkering, smithing, canvas art, drafting, even pipe-fitting apprenticeship had all ended in fiasco shortly after they began in frustration. These various trainings ground into her the paired dragons of her parents' disappointment in her and her own will to do anything possible to please them. She knew herself only as a screwup.
Kiran quickly shut down his power tool and rapidly applied its safeties in practiced motions before repairing his trademark welding goggles from his face to his forehead, the only legacy of her father's that Chandra was destined, as it turns out, to inherit.
"Chan! How many times have I told you to keep back when I'm welding? The damage to your eyes alone could be permanent! Do you want to be blind? And did you climb on the outside of the rail again? You know how precarious that is?"
"I love you, daddy," Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, said as she hugged Kiran about the waist.
Chandra's squeeze prompted the last mote of remorse to wag its ugly head in her father's gut. He would be sending her to her death soon, though she did not understand it. The usefulness of having a child as useless and as devoted as she was not lost on the Nalaars, who had been calculating this day for many days. A friend and fellow terrorist of theirs was squatting a site whose destruction would shatter the foundation of one of the Consul's most precious and profitable foundries. "We are vehicles of grassroots change," Kiran said to himself. His remorse went back to sleep.
"You know it's because I worry about you, Chan."
"So, uh, today's the day, huh?"
"Yep. I'm ready to run. Give me the package and I'll deliver it."
"Ah, erm, I think your mother has it. Go ask your mother."
Prerna Nalaar moved in from off camera at that exact moment. "It's here, baby-girl," she said, indicating the canister full of powerful and dangerous explosive energy she nestled against her side like a football.
With no words and boundless enthusiasm, Chandra hugged her mother, made off with the canister, and loped gleefully toward the useful suicide her parents had planned for her.
"Are you sure this is for the best?" Prerna asked Kiran as they leaned on one another and watch their girl run.
"We can always have more kids."
Chandra whipped and gamboled through the twists of the great and massive and writhing city of Ghirapur. Ghirapur's every edge, corner, and buttress was trimmed with filigree, the author having recently discovered what that word meant, bustling with the daily life of the citizenry of Kaladesh in the image of a massive Windsor clock, ticking Chandra toward her fiery doom.
Taking back roads and parkour-hopping over the cityscape, Chandra came to a halt before a tall and sheer edifice of famous inventor portraits done in mosaic tile. She found a foothold in the perfectly smooth surface and gouged her little girl foot into the unblinking portrait eye of some impossibly famous inventor whose name nevertheless escaped her.
And then escape became very important.
On the other side of the handholdless wall she had mounted for no reason cavorted a gang of police, their bored expressions turning gradually to expectations of sweet harassment. They wore the crew-cuts, Consul colors, and fantastical-yet-undescribed fantasy weaponry that were the standard issue of prats the world over.
"What's all this, then?" the nearest of them eructed playfully.
"I hafta...ta school."
"On your way to school? You took a wrong turn, girlie."
The Consul cronies' sickening grins and muscular bodies maximized Chandra's discomfort as they encroached on her, menacingly. A voice like an icepick gouging through ice in slow motion cut through the mob from the near side of the courtyard.
"What's going on here?"
The voice belonged to Captain Baral, leader of this particular band of uniformed thugs, who parted to let their captain see their prey.
"She's a runner, sir. Contraband, possibly dangerous."
In an instant, the captain identified the canister Chandra sported on her back. The order was automatic.
"Clear the area!"
The goons snapped to attention and then action, each double-timing in a different direction, the majority off to the end of the throughway to prevent passersby from passing by.
Captain Baral fixed her eyes on Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, then. Fear and disgust and worry bidding for real estate on her cool countenance. She bid them all down and walked up to Chandra, taking a knee to be at eye level.
"They're using children now?" Baral said to herself, then to Chandra, "where were you going to?"
"I'm sorry if my people scared you. They're here to keep the city safe. To keep you safe."
Chandra heard the echo of her father's concern and bit it back down. This captain was an obstacle. Her parent's bidding was all she desired. She was waiting for her moment, and she really hated waiting.
"I sent my people away because, like their job is to keep the city safe, my job is to keep them safe, and you have a bomb on your back."
Chandra hadn't heard that one from her dad or anyone else before. She hadn't thought about what the package contained: she hadn't done much in the way of thinking at all, and now she was starting to understand why that might not be a way to live her life.
"I promise you aren't in trouble. Please give it to me, then I'll take you home to your parents."
Fear and uncertainty and a chimera of other unfeltbefore emotions clouded Chandra's mind. A central fact sprang out of that mass: daddy hated the police. Not thinking hard enough to come up with a good plan, Chandra adopted a simple one, and punched the commissioned officer in her commissioned eye.
Unbeknownst to her, Chandra's fists had caught fire, the incomprehension of ideas confusing the basic fact of pyromancy that had validated itself by induction like a proof in the hazy meantime of a professional adult trying to disarm a bomb-child. The fire fist fact stunned Baral for longer than the pain of an eleven year old child's unpracticed pummel, long enough for her to slip away. Rapid orders from a mind as crisp and cool as a tomato-killing autumn frost snapped at Chandra's ears from rapidly and increasingly behind.
"Scramble whirlers! Don't loose her, but don't get too close! I want sky-eyes, now!"
The one skill Chandra was confident she had picked up in her eleven years of life was the performance of slipping away through busy city streets, neglectful Nalaar parenting allowed her a wealth of free time as an urchin. In no time she was gone.
When she caught a spare moment, she considered her hands. They had caught fire when she punched that tall lady, she knew it. She kept glancing down at her hands, but they appeared to be nothing but hands now. The trouble that she was in felt different than anything before. Far more intimidating than the Consul Police's presence were that captain's words. Mom and dad had strapped a bomb to her back?
She slumped in the dark alley and set the canister down beside her. Her breathing slowed, the rush of action gave way to grief. Though it was purely her imagination, the thing seemed to abominate outwardly: a canister of hatred thrumming with her parents' disappointment in her. Tears won total control of her vision. That most dreadful of feelings, confusion, ripped savagely at her soul. And through the chaos of those minutes, a tiny candle's light made itself visible before her.
Chandra cupped her hands around the tiny flame. It spoke to her self directly, a language of pure logic, just as absolute and incomprehensible.
"Don't go out."
Was she making the fire? Was she losing her mind? Was this her own soul talking to her? I am a tiny flame and I shouldn't go out. Just don't go out. It didn't make any sense and yet it did. Her parents had wanted her to make mayhem.
"Don't go out."
The fire logic started to make sense. Chandra gathered her courage and put the canister back on, ready to run headlong toward fate. She wouldn't go out, and she would, for once in her screwup life, honor her parent's wishes.
Finding the meeting place without getting caught was a snap. The autonomous and artistically crafted drone spies of the Consul never caught site of her as she went, the sonorous hum of their gossamer wings rang like a tuning fork, too high-pitched for most, especially adults, to hear. Chandra was a child of eleven and especially sensitive: she could pick them out from blocks away.
"Chandra?" Sandia Pashiri had caught sight of Chandra and waved her over. She was Chandra's contact and a lifelong friend of the Nalaars, perhaps for longer than her own life.
Chandra rushed over, neglecting all notions of stealth, and hugged the woman about her waist, knotting her hands which were still just hands together.
"Careful, child. Let's get you inside."
"I can hear the thopters."
"I'll deal with those, you take that package inside."
"And then what?"
The magnificent clock city had ticked away the last second of time to discuss. Sandia shoved the door closed with her foot as she produced from seemingly nowhere several magnificent and ornate metal flying animal facsimiles that were also bombs.
The interior of the foundry was a clockmaker's wet dream, unmoving metallic actuators in assembly line arrangement crafted to precision, a central pylon towering to the top of the mighty dome hung like an earnest prayer to the god of machinery that the people of Kaladesh had long ago built to topple all other gods.
Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, heard an explosion from outside, and breathed a full-chested sigh of relief for the distraction, and of foreshadowing her own future pinup-girl bustiness in naked betrayal of the author's perversion.
Filigreed gears clicked to life around her, and nevermind that that is the last place you want stylization in your machines because gears need to transfer regular rotational force and weakening them structurally with the holes of filigree is madness but they worked just fine anyway because magic. The great machine-building-machine clicked and hummed with warmup procedures.
Small artfact creature — constructs dislodged their crafted bodies from the wall cubbies and marched or rolled or scampered in a regulated chaos toward their duty stations. Chandra stayed out of their way and they out of hers.
All except a taller construct that served no apparent crafting or maintenance purpose. A serial plate stamped with the words "quality assurance" caught the light of the warming lamps as the automaton's optics narrowed on the entity who did not belong. Chandra's heart dropped into her guts. Her hands began to glow, eager to catch fire once again.
"No, thank you," she said to her hands. "Not again. No, no, no."
She shouldered a colorless 0/1 Pest artifact creature token out of the way and made a break for the floor exit. Another QA construct stood in front of the door, unleashing its mancatcher appendages in intimidation mode.
Just then the writer remembered that there was a bomb on Chandra's back, so she (Chandra, not the writer) chucked it toward the center of the floor and let her hands go hog wild on the spot near where it landed and really anything at all in general. All in all she dealt three damage divided as she chose among up to three targets, which was enough to hint to the reader that Chandra's hands and the Nalaar suicide bomb canister were responsible for a holocaust the likes of which the plane of Kaladesh had never seen, that nonetheless left the foundry in total ruin and allowed Chandra to escape with not so much as a singed eyebrow and make it all the way home past would-be pursuers, autonomous or otherwise.
Chandra regarded her work from a distance that she had somehow gotten to safely. "Thanks, hands," she said, kissing each like an arrogant bareknuckle prizefighter who had just earned a boxing bounty by knockout.
In no time and with no explanation Chandra burst through her parents' door. They were astonished to see her alive again, the plan to sacrifice her for their ideals gone horribly awry. Chandra the screwup.
"I...I..." Chandra panted feebly, exhausted from the exciting parkour run back home that the reader did not get to hear about.
The Nalaar's pretended care for their daughter, hugging her and letting her catch her breath. Kiran picked her up and cradled her as if she were a beloved baby.
"I blew it up," Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, said.
"The canister?" Kiran asked.
"The whole building."
Chandra's hand raised itself so it could be in easy view of the whole family, caught fire of its own volatile volition, and went out just as did Chandra, suddenly and thankfully asleep in her father's arms.
When he was sure she was out, Kiran said, "What a screwup," and carried her off to the next scene.
Which was outdoors. The barely-dampened bouncing of the cargo floor jostled Chandra awake. As she blinked back the haze of awakening, images of hours before flashed like a magnesium strip in her mind. Her parents were packing. They put on costumes. Dad put her in a cart crowded with shipping crates. They were dismantling the workshop. Finally, they were getting smaller in the distance and walking away from one another.
No goodbyes. No explanation. Shipped off somewhere like a sack of flour. Or discarded like that same sack when it was discovered to be crawling with weevils. Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, found the letter pinned to her tunic. She broke the seal and looked at it. But no matter how long she looked, she couldn't tell what it said. Her parents had never taught her to read.
The automated horse seemed to know both where it was going and also how to hit every single bump in the road along the way. The evenly dovetailed mudbrick of city streets had long ago given way to any old dirt and stone and scrub that was too ornery to get out of the way of aught which might tread upon it, leaving behind what might be thought of as a road.
Chandra barely noticed. Her parents had abused her, neglected her, manipulated her, attempted to sacrifice her, and finally dispossessed her. But she barely understood any of it. Her brain processed only confusion. Her heart ached for them. For all their combined inventiveness, the Nalaar's could not craft the machine that could sunder their daughter's love for them, though their attempts to so craft had been enormous. And so Chandra simply sat in the back of the wagon among piles of disused things and wept bitter tears of confusion. Chandra the screwup.
"Don't go out."
Her twinkling friend was back.
"I don't want you. I hate you."
"Don't go out."
"Leave me alone."
It hovered patiently in front of her gaze, scorning her attempts to shoo it away, sticking around with a patience not attributed to fiery things in Magic cards, and reminiscent of ticking up a planeswalker one loyalty counter at a time. Chandra (in a foreshadowing of her first printing, perhaps) would have flushed all of her loyalty counters into damage if it would get that mote out of her face.
"Don't go out."
After the passing of a few minutes that felt like hours, the roiling and tempestuous emotions warring over the conquest of Chandra's eleven-year-old soul gave way to an understanding of this spark, which had been waiting patiently those intervening minutes for her to so understand. She was this little fire, tender and bright, her own companion and reified metaphor. And she would not go out.
The cart stopped in the village square of some agrarian outskirt of the big city. Chandra stood up, letter in hand, and cast about looking for a literate and friendly adult. The goats paid her little mind.
A village elder whom the other adults called Krishna approached and introduced himself to Chandra, and she to him. His gaze remained even as he read the letter Chandra had unpinned from her tunic. Finally his expression darkened as much as the permanent smiling wrinkles of his warmhearted face would allow.
Despite the howls of pain and threats of mutiny the old man's legs reported at the effort, Krishna kneeled so he could have Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, at eye level.
"I knew your father's parents. Now your parents have tried to bribe me. This letter," Krishna held it up as he spoke, "did you read it on the way here?"
"I can't read."
Astonishment creased the elder's face.
"How old are you, Chandra."
Krishna sat back, relieving his shins and worrying his mind over the fate of this child whose parents had discarded her like so many sandbagged lands. He spoke again.
"Let me tell you. This letter is a bribe. Your father has invoked the name of his father, whom I loved, in an attempt to manipulate me into taking you off his hands. He sweetened the deal with the rest of the contents of that cart over there. It is awful. A wicked contract from a wicked child. How my heart breaks over seeing what has become of Sumanth's son."
Chandra looked at him, not perfectly understanding but getting the gist of it. A nearby goat had taken a passing interest in her, and gently butted its head against her. She patted it without thinking.
"I would turn up my nose at the rankness of such a deal. But he has included something more precious by far."
Krishna extended a forefinger to tap Chandra gently on the chest.
"The fortune, no doubt the eager work of dirty deeds, will not be your ransom but your property. And for Sumanth's memory I would gladly take you in for nothing and teach you to read, among other things. That is, if you would trust me."
"I want my daddy."
Krishna sighed, "All in good time. Now," he arose effortfully but gracefully, "howabout we get you fed. You must be very hungry."
Chandra's aching stomach, while not nearly as powerful a voice as her aching heart, was neverless energetic while the latter was fatigued. Food sounded like the best thing in the world, and this strange man seemed to have her best interests at heart. Stranger still in that she had never known any adult who did, so total was her parent's abuse. She took Krishna's hand and for once risked trusting someone other than her own spark.
Her trust was well placed. Krishna oversaw Chandra's days, teaching her letters and how to milk goats. He praised her for being such a quick study, and in no time Chandra could make out signs, parse sentences, even invent her own (if in poor, unpracticed handwriting) letters. The goats proved a more difficult challenge than the letters, being congenially ornery and idiotic. Her bright companion stayed inside, never needing to light itself in the world while she was in no danger or distress, and Chandra almost forgot all about it.
Some weeks later, Chandra left the village to gather rose hips when she spied in the forest a discarded horn of the great horned tiger. Excited at the find and eager to return with a trophy in addition to the berry-like bulbs, she grasped the horn, which seemed to be stuck among some branches in the thick underbrush.
She felt the warm, wet breath before she heard the growl that made it, which anticipated seeing the opening eye of the beast by perhaps one whole second. This horn, Chandra had discovered, was neither a discard nor stuck.
Animal panic took over Chandra's mind and body. The great horned tiger, irritated at being awoken, some twenty times her size, swatted Chandra away and growled low. The blow felt like a tree, tumbling Chandra's child body aside effortlessly. Chandra's hands once more had their own ideas, and immolated in anticipation of the wild abandon that was their only desire and aim. The tiger flinched and recovered a few steps, circling warily around this unusual and irritating animal that had its own light. Chandra stopped thinking, and the fire grew to consume her entire body, somehow not burning her as it always never had.
Now totally on fire, the tiger gave up on attacking this animal and chose to lope away gingerly. Chandra's clothes had burned away. The hands gave her control back. She ran, naked and embarrassed, toward the village. She stood at the edge of the forest behind a cypress tree and thought. She couldn't run around nude in front of people. She needed a favor from her companion, and anyway, she was owed.
Chandra, a girl of merely eleven, walked swiftly but not too swiftly back to the village, wearing a wreath of conjured fire about her to give modesty, if also total baldfaced amazement, to her passage. The villagers gawked. Goats ran out of the way. Krishna saw her, worried, and ran toward. He tossed his scarf around her so she could have clothes other than flame, and Chandra turned the fire off in kind. They spent afternoon tea, the evening meal, and coffee, discussing Chandra's bright companion and everything that had ever happened to her while her hands were on fire.
Chandra was tucked into bed, Krishna sitting at her bedside, vacillating over how to say what needed to be said.
"You can't stay here," he finally, if bluntly, chose to begin.
Tears immediately clouded Chandra's eyes as her chest felt like steel wires suddenly grew all within it, razzing and chafing her innards. Discarded again. Cast out again. Chandra the screwup. Krishna tried to pat her head to console her quickly.
"Oh how awful that must be to hear. I don't want to send you away, Chandra. You haven't done anything wrong. Please hear me out."
The pain subsided only slightly. The wires, present as ever, had stilled themselves somewhat. Chandra looked at her caretaker again.
"Let me tell you a story of a man from long ago. He was beautiful. It was said he could charm any person or animal with his gaze. And in fact he was a prosperous goatherd and prodigious sire. And though he was so agreeable to meet, and so beloved, he was also aloof, troubled. No one understood why he kept out here in the outlands instead of going to the city. 'He could be a Consulman,' they would say, 'wisdom and beauty so combine in a person once an age, surely he is meant for better than a simple goatherd.' But at conversations like this, the man would simply smile his beautiful smile and laugh his beautiful laugh. 'No, that's not for me,' he would reply, 'the love of my family and my herd is all I want, and I have it right here. What is really in the city? Machines and stones. Show me the machine that loves or the stone that nurtures. Then I will go to the city.'
The city, as it turns out, came to him. The Consul was recruiting for war, and the man's sons and daughters did not think as he, were not very happy among goats, and thought of the great cities of Kaladesh with avarice in their hearts. All, save his youngest, were of an age where soldiering and adventure woo the imagination, and also of an age where their bodies were strong enough to consider worthy of recruitment. They enlisted all together, and though their sire hated to give them up, he understood they were their own persons, worthy of choosing their lives for themselves."
"How many," Chandra asked.
"Would you believe me if I said eight in all? Four sons and four daughters of this goatherd, all enamored of war? It's true. I don't suppose you had ever learned of what people call the Thopter War, which happened some years ago."
Chandra shook her head, the wires in her chest nearly all subsided by now, the wet streaks of her tears evaporating from her face.
"It is I think best I left that story for another time, suffice to say the man never saw his children again, except, of course, for his baby boy who had been barely old enough to know he had eight siblings. If this man had been aloof before, he was unreachable then. No person or animal could look upon him and fail to be moved. He left the care of his son and his herd to the capable hands of his wives and friends, and left on a pilgrimage the likes of which only those who could remember the old gods could recall.
Years later, a long friend of his came to visit, only to learn of his grief and his pilgrimage, and so this friend set off to find him, with all the speed and resources he could muster.
It did not take too long, for this friend had heard of the old gods and knew the secret roads of the kind their pilgrims walked. He discovered the man in a circle of stones, scarred black and slick from a holocaust that had halted the forest from perverting their grounds with undergrowth. Nothing so much as a moss had dared to grow upon it. 'My friend,' said the friend to the man, 'tell me why this distress? Why not hurry back home?'
The man regarded his old friend. He sat up and raised his hand above his head, and a fire lighted upon it, turning his arm into a torch. It licked and danced into the night, never burning the man's hand nor so much as heating his skin. And then they sat and talked for a night.
The man explained that his gift had gotten him in endless trouble in his youth, that everything he touched would burn and that people grew to fear and scorn him. He resolved to understand people, to sway their hearts and minds, forbidding harsh words from his tongue, promoting the loveliness of his attitude and his body, and doing all he could to never call fire from his body, but only warmth from his heart. From this vagrancy he eventually became forgotten as a vandal and welcomed as a brother. Though formerly persecuted, he came to truly know people's hearts, this was the twin of the gift of fire, he explained to his friend, that the understanding had come as easily and as readily."
Chandra blinked. Weariness from the day competing with eagerness to hear the rest of the story, her sadness totally forgotten. Instead Krishna wore a few tears at the recollection.
"That was Sumanth. That was my friend and your grandfather and his gift. So when I tell you you cannot stay here, it is because the road you walk is his. Or I guess I should say ours."
"What?" was all Chandra could come up with, tired and exhausted and emotionally drained as she was.
"These old bones aren't so bad that I can't travel. And how could I leave you? It would mean burning up my entire past and spitting on your grandfather's grave."
Chandra reached out and hugged Krishna a long moment, sleep finally taking her. Krishna set the girl back in bed and snuffed the lights. All except the soft glow that Chandra's own body emitted, which emanated contentment and belonging, paired feelings that were novel in the girl's troubled life.
Trouble didn't take long to find Chandra again. Before she and Krishna could depart on the pilgrimage to find Sumanth's path, word came from the city that a group of terrorists had been captured and were to be executed publicly. Among the names were Prerna and Kiran Nalaar.
So the two struck out on a different journey first, back to the city and its manifold filigreed casements, its moving walkways, the hum of thopters and the scrum of bustling persons. Krishna ached with worry over what they would find and do once there. Chandra boiled over with conflicting feelings for the entire ride. Her bright companion didn't offer any bright ideas.
Krishna navigated the city streets with a deftness that betrayed his years in the sticks, and hinted at a richer and more interesting past than Chandra had expected or heard about from him. Nevertheless they found their way to the Consul barracks where the Nalaars were held. An icy feeling gripped Chandra's heart when she saw and heard a familiar voice from inside the office room where Krishna's inquiry had been directed.
Captain Baral did not at first recognize Chandra, but addressed the elder with patience and deference.
"Mr. Krishna," she began.
"Just Krishna will do, if you please. I have never felt like a mister."
"Of course. Krishna. I am afraid our regulations permit only immediate family to visit the convicted during their stays." The Captain sounded like she had no love of capital punishment. It was more human than Chandra had ever heard her sound, though it tickled her with nostalgia.
"I understand. This is the daughter of two of them, and I, as her guardian, cannot stray from her side, as you understand, so I ask to be allowed with the immediate get to visit the convicted."
Krishna's facile use of some of the formal language of Consul code made Captain Baral's spine tingle slightly. Baral could see herself in her elder. Nevertheless, the request was only slightly irregular and altogether reasonable. And so the three went into a visiting chamber while the Captain called to have two of the convicted made ready for visitation.
The scene was tense. The masterwork artistic woven metal had made its way even into the prisons of the city of Ghirapur, through which Chandra could now see her parents. Though visually identical to how they had appeared before, they looked diminished, resigned. Loathing crawled across Kiran's face. Prerna sat and was still and silent.
Chandra was the first to break the silence.
She ran towards the grid and reached through, grasping to touch him. He stood. At last he laughed. It was a hollow, mirthless sound that made Baral's and Krishna's skin crawl to hear.
"Pathetic," Kiran said, "an irony that I'm sure is lost on everyone else, but not me. Here's my daughter the screwup. Have you come to lower me into my grave just so you can let me down one last time?"
Chandra stopped reaching and stood and gripped the bars. Her hands glowed imperceptibly.
"You couldn't learn, you couldn't follow instructions, you couldn't die, and now you couldn't even stay away. You're pathetic."
Chandra searched her mother's eyes for a second opinion, and found what could have been shame, or remorse, or support, or scorn, but was mostly just silence.
"Dad...they're gonna kill you."
"Yes you redheaded idiot. And I might finally be able to accomplish something with that. The city has become decadent, confident and secure in the watchful eyes of the Consul's fascist regime. And I? I will die a martyr. I shall spark the powder keg of our movement with my glorious death."
"The girl doesn't understand your politics, young man," Krishna interrupted, "and even I do not understand your decisions. Capital punishment has been falling out of favor recently. The Consul is discarding its barbaric practices, and I understand that your death is your own elective."
"Who are you?"
Krishna turned to Chandra, "This old man is familiar with politics. Your father is going to die because he wants to. He could have merely said the word and gotten a different sentence."
"Dad?" Chandra inquired meekly.
Kiran only scoffed. Krishna continued.
"What are the specifics of the charge?" he asked of Baral.
"Property damage in too many counts to list, and one homicide, the woman who informed us of their whereabouts."
"But no," Chandra spoke, "that was me, I...I did all that. If it was me then you have to let daddy go, right."
Chandra took on the look of the little girl Captain Baral had stopped in the street weeks before. Chandra let her fire grace her hands, eyes, and hair. Her voice took on an ethereal quality as she continued he inquiry.
"See. I'm a freak. I blew it all up with my fire, so, so you should execute me and let my mom and dad go. Please."
Captain Baral barely controlled herself, the paired shocks of recognizing the girl and seeing her immolate herself without apparent artifice or harm staggered her wits mightily. But she was a professional, and found the words.
"Young lady," she began, "even if you are the firebug who blew up the grounds, you could not have killed Sandia Pashiri, as that happened afterward and in cold blood. Even so, as a minor, you would merely be an accessory, a tool if you will, and your parents the perpetrators. Finally, even if the Consul wanted to punish you, you wouldn't be executed. We don't execute children, it's unthinkable."
The fire by that point had receded to a candle's glow, hovering above Chandra's head, patient.
The mirthless laugh sounded once again from Kiran's depths, "This is just too much. Little Chan can't get anything right. She's supposed to hate me and instead she's begging to die in my place. Always a screwup."
"I do not understand what wicked sorcery binds her heart to you," Krishna answered him, "but it must be the mirror of the demon in you that visited such hatred upon her. I am looking at the only screwup in the room. To my understanding you tried with all your hate to break your child's heart. Tried with all your cunning to attack the state. Tried with all your machines to resist capture. Now your freedom is gone, the state carries on without you, and your only child loves you still. Just as your father did."
"My father left!" Kiran screamed, all sardonic affectations burnt off. "He ran away because of that!" he pointed at the candle's light above Chandra's head.
Pain cracked Kiran's expression, which warped and twisted as he laughed at himself, then cried, then panted, barely able to articulate anything except in spasms of screaming.
"That fire took my father away. I couldn't bear to see it in my own daughter," he wept. Finally he screamed at Chandra, "Why couldn't you just go!?"
And then, though none of the persons in the room understood how, she went. Her father screaming for her to get out of his life had broken something inside her, or perhaps, in a perverted inventiveness characteristic of Kiran Nalaar the Tinkerer, created something. An understanding dawned on Chandra of the years of abuse, the magnitude of what her parents' treatment had done to her, and the narrative convenience of planeswalking had instead, and in a fit of irony, done the most inconvenient possible thing. Kaladesh peeled off of Chandra like an orange, and she fell tumbling through the Blind Eternities, whose mind-melting maddenning unreality could not begin to break through the barrier of grief the sudden realization of her parents abuse had erected around her.
She was a planeswalker.
Chandra landed in a gravel courtyard, surrounded by carefully manicured trees in square red planter boxes. Three bells with red ribbons beneath overhung the archway entrance. Bald, robed gymnasts performed synchronized practice fighting motions in a room visible from the courtyard. A 1/3 human monk, a 3/1 efreet monk, and a 2/2 djinn monk approached her, striking team poses as they walked, which was their habit.
"Where am I," Chandra asked.
"You are in Wutai monastery," said the efreet, "and this," he held out his hand, "is the Jeskai Way."