Su-a stumbled over the rooftops. His grief blocked his vision. All he could see was the next few steps, and if there was nothing but empty air in those he sometimes mis-stepped. Mostly he leapt the partly-covered streets easily, but wider courtyards nearly sent him sprawling several times. Each time he got up and kept moving, in no direction except away. Finally his blurry vision registered that there was nothing but empty air in front of him, no further wall at all. He realised this just as he leapt into it. He managed to get his staff under him, its base stuttering along the stone paving, and break his fall. Just. One of his ankles bent awkwardly as he landed. The shock of the failed leap brought him back to himself and he looked around, gasping for breath.
The large black stone stele in the centre of the square seemed to look back at him, mockingly, as he hung his weight against the staff.
He was in the Square of Shamash. It was too much. He limped over to the stone, ankle struggling with his weight, and traced a finger down its cramped writing. Here, in hard cuts for anyone to read, lay the punishment for every crime. No matter the cause.
His heart broke once again. A law for everyone, no matter who, why or how loved.
In that moment, all understanding of the balance of the kingdom's power was gone. None of it mattered. He raised his hand away from the stone.
The darkness, the Unmaking, swirled around his clenched fist. An infinity of Time accelerating into the infinite space between atoms, a magnificent and unstoppable entropy. He lifted it all with one hand, and slammed it hard against the stone.
Moments later, the square was empty. No stele marked its centre. And no cat remained in the space it left. Only one thing broke the darkness, the hush. A slight gasp in a dark corner between two houses, with a flutter of red sleeve as someone tried to hide the sound.
Su-a was nearly to the edge of the city when he felt it. A wash of pink light, a scattering of tiny red and silver bugs that spread out from the Square of Shamash, one even landing on his ankle. He wept, pushed his weight into the foot and ran harder.
Kalmatu Hush found him at their hill, across the river from the First City. His arms curled around his legs, tears streaking his black eyeliner down his face. An empty beer jar lay nearby with his kwami dozing beside it. She dropped down beside him, detransforming and sitting looking out at the view without a word.
It hurt that he didn't reach an arm around her like he usually would. But she wasn't surprised, either.
Eventually he broke the silence.
"You fixed it", he said. She didn't know if the reproach she heard in his voice was truly there, or whether she just wanted it to be.
"The stele? Yes." And I hate myself for it. But I had to. She didn't know if he heard that in her voice either.
"Those laws will stand as long as this Empire does." His voice broke. "How many other children will pay such a price?"
She sighed. "It was you who told me that maybe this was the way to make sure less of them did." There was a pause, then she continued. "If some parents are spared this grief because of it, then..." she took a breath, words unwilling, then pushed them out in a rush "then... I envy them."
He snorted, almost a laugh if it hadn't been for the devastating pain behind it. "Yeah."
They sat there a while.
"I can't go back, you know" he said finally.
"Why? Nobody knows you are Su-a, and there is no evidence of the stele ever having been damaged."
"I know. And you know."
"I love you. Why does it matter if I know?"
He sighed. "I guess it doesn't. I love you too, Bug. But I can't stay in the City any longer. I can't attend his meetings or take his orders." Adrehasis looked out at the city, but she could see that he didn't see it. "I can't pretend that he and his judge didn't order my son to death."
"What will we do instead?"
He looked at her sharply. "We?"
"Do you think I'm letting you go alone?"
"The city needs you, Bug. More than it needs me."
"That's not true. And you need me more than they do."
He stood up, and spoke harshly. "No. I don't. Sinitu*!" (*Transformation Dance)
A green light fell around them, and Su-a stood above her, glaring. "Don't follow me". He extended his staff and leapt away, following the river faster than she could run.
"I'm sorry, Monireh", Tikki said. "I'm not strong enough to transform you a fourth time."
"I know, Tikki". The kwami flew to her shoulder, snuggling into her shawl, and they both looked out at the city, crying for their loved ones.
The riverboat travelled slowly but steadily upriver, turning its sail with or against the wind to gain wherever it could against the slow current. Adrehasis sat on a wooden box, watching the grainlands go by. This boat would take him to Mari, and then he could catch another boat heading upriver for the mountain mines.
"This is a stupid idea", Plagg muttered from inside his shawl. "And I'm hungry."
"We have to space out the beer. This boat isn't making many stops."
"It's still a stupid idea."
There was an exasperated silence from inside his shawl, and then an ear twitched out, followed by a grumpy black face. Adrehasis shifted so Plagg was still hidden from the boatmen. "It's a stupid idea because you miss her. You need her. You two aren't meant to work alone."
"It's my powers, my bad luck that killed our son."
"No it isn't", Plagg replied, for what felt like the two hundredth time. He sighed. "Look, there's something you ought to think about. Just listen. Please."
"If you say her name I'm throwing you overboard."
"It's not about her. It's about Hammurabi." Plagg saw that his kitten was at least listening, so he continued.
"Have you ever wondered why you were chosen, and not him?"
"Not really. Why would anyone give a king the power of bad luck?"
"It's not about the luck. It's about the power of destruction. Think about it – it's the power of the gods, meant for kings among men, not mere mortals. Instead of having long drawn out campaigns, this king could have won his wars with a mere touch. It would have saved countless lives."
"So why didn't he get it?"
Plagg grimaced. "Because he would have used it. Remember the look on his face when he was meditating on the law code?"
"Basically, kitten, someone who needs to punish others isn't mentally stable enough to wield this kind of power. Very bad things could happen." With that, Plagg tucked himself back under the shawl, out of the sun. He'd learnt long ago that any kitten with a strong enough will to wield his power and not go insane also generally didn't change their mind just because he said they should. Hopefully, this time, he'd said enough.
A day's travel downriver, Tikki's antennae shivered. She nestled into Monireh's collarbone and whispered "They're still ahead of us. Still moving."
Monireh whispered back "Thank you." She turned her eyes forward, willing her luck to bring the right winds to their sails. She had a cat to catch.
In Mari, Monireh stayed only as long as she needed to confirm that Adrehasis had been there. "I think he's heading for the tin mine at Goltepe."
Tikki furrowed her brow. "Didn't Hammurabi say he wanted him to go there? I don't think Adrehasis is in any mood to follow his king's instructions."
"I don't either, Tikki. But he had a tablet giving him a royal pass to negotiate with the tin miners. He showed it to someone when he was looking for a boat to catch. So if we at least head in that direction we're still following him". Unspoken, they shared the thought that if he changed direction, hopefully they'd realise in time. Or that luck would let them catch up before he disappeared completely from the map. Hopefully.
The Khabur River was less broad than the Euphrates. The riverboat Adrehasis caught was heading for a silver mine outside of Sikkan. He wasn't the only passenger they'd taken on – there were another two looking to bathe at one of Sikkan's springs. When they'd asked him why he was heading there, he'd simply let them believe it was for the same reason. And it was almost true. He'd listened to enough about Sikkan's rocks in the mine reports to have realised a few things. Like that they were soft, specially so, and that water went up and down through them in many places. And that much of the Khabur's water came from there. When the riverboat pulled in at Sikkan in the morning he ignored the town. Instead he slung his bag over his shoulder, adjusted his necklace so that the strap didn't rub on it, tightened his sandals and began walking up into the hills.
"So what exactly is your plan here?" Plagg asked, as the town receded around a cliff. "This is karst country, and I don't exactly feel like getting lost at the bottom of a sinkhole."
"Karst?" Some limestone crumbled under his feet and he stumbled backwards.
"Yeah, this rock. It used to be under the ocean. Now it's full of holes." Plagg grinned. "I kinda like it, actually."
Adrehasis looked around him, and stopped, lifting Plagg out carefully from his shawl and rubbing his forehead against the little kwami's.
"I realised that what I said to Kalmatu Hush was true", he replied, grief still in his eyes. "Those laws will stand as long as this Empire does. I also realised", he continued more strongly, "that what you said was true. Hammurabi can't be allowed to wield his power without interference."
"That's not at all what I said!"
"Close enough. So, what we're going to do, is break a rule. His rule." Adrehasis gave a black laugh. "We'll give him enough interference that he'll spend the rest of his life having to manage his own empire instead of conquering new ones." His face turned dark. "However long or little that life is. Are you with me, Plagg?"
The little cat-god sighed. "Unfortunately, and I'm not sure for who, I think I am." He craned his neck around. "Is there more beer in your bag?"
"Yes. We're going to need it. Sinitu!"
Destruction followed upon destruction, as Plagg and Adrehasis found place after place that a well-aimed Abatu would bring the water pouring from the rock. Across the day and through the karst they created twenty new springs, each gushing nearly as much water as the river had held on the journey up. When Plagg finished the last jar of beer, he rolled onto his back, chest heaving for breath. "I don't think I can do any more, Adre."
"I'm tired too, Plagg. But it's OK. I think that's enough. More than enough."
Far away in Tuttul on the Euphrates River, Monireh and Tikki huddled together in a rented room. "I can't find any sign of him having reached here", Monireh said. "I think we've lost him. We'll have to go back towards Mari and see if we can work out where he left the river". Tikki bumped her forehead reassuringly. "We'll find them", she said.
But they had only travelled half a day downstream before the riverboat had to pull over to the bank. Reports came of a great flood, out of season this close to winter, coming down the Khabur River and into the Euphrates below. One of the biggest they'd had in the lifetime of the boatman who passed on the news, and he looked wrinkled and spotted from years of sun. Traffic would be stilled for at least a week. Monireh knew that trade would be disrupted for far, far longer. She conferred briefly with Tikki, then they went back to Tuttul to wait for the Khabur to be passable once again.
It was a pleasant day in Sikkan. Monireh walked to the far side of the town from the riverboat landings, following her instincts. A small house drew her, and she knocked upon the entry.
A little black kwami buzzed out through the wall and dived into the fringe of her shawl. "About time you got here", he said. "Adrehasis can't make flatbread nearly as good as yours."
"We'd have been here sooner, but there was this flood in the way", she said to him as she walked through to the small courtyard in the centre of the house.
Adrehasis looked up at her from his bench. "I told you not to follow me. Did you get caught in it?" He sounded more worried than angry.
"Luckily", and she looked down at her kwami who was looking a little sheepish, "we didn't realise you'd gone up the Khabur. We were north of the confluence when the flood came down."
They faced each other.
"What now?" she said.
"I bought this house", he said, gesturing around. "In another name. They won't find us here."
"They're not going to be looking for a while. Your little flood – I assume that was you two?", she said, raising her eyebrows. "– the flood moved the course of the river. A lot. According to the boatmen, there's a river city or two downstream that are now fifty kilometres from the banks, and some others that are half-buried. Hammurabi will be swamped by petitions for assistance and with sorting out the trade issues. He won't notice you failing to return for quite a long time, and if he does he may just think you were lost in the flood."
She smiled at him. "He might notice his head cook leaving a little sooner though, which is why I made sure I left scribed notes on tablets for Ettu and Akki. They should be able to handle most dishes themselves now anyway."
"Are you going to fix what I did?" he said, watching her face carefully, uncertain of her response.
She sighed. "No, I'm not. It means some major changes for the Empire, but change is not a bad thing of itself. We spent some time talking to the boatmen, trying to work out the extent of the damage. There's a large area of grainlands that just got extra soil and water that haven't since the last big flood a century ago, and Tikki says that if we fix that, there's some cities that will starve in a few years from crop failure." She looked at him sadly.
He stood, finally, and hugged her close. "I missed you, Bug", he said, burying his head into her shoulder.
She tweaked his beard. "Next time, don't leave me behind then."
"They moved the river?" Adrien asked, surprised.
"Yeah. The Euphrates is in a lot of flat land. It moves a bit every time it floods, and a big flood that dumps a lot of soil can move it a long way."
"That explains why the Mesopotamian maps I was studying last year seemed to shift around. I just thought it was changes in map-making. But if cities actually left the river, or rather the river left the cities, that would make any map a bit unreliable."
"Plus, y'know, they didn't really use maps. No paper."
"That too, I guess."
They sat there together for a while, staring into nothing in particular. Eventually Adrien broke the silence.
"That must have really sucked, hearing the king blame him for the laws that killed his son."
"It's weird", Adrien said. "But hearing that actually does make me feel a bit better. Like, I'm here, I'm alive, I have friends. I have Ladybug."
"You also have boots and trousers. It's a lot easier to kick butt with those."
"I still have my dad, I guess, even though it doesn't feel like it most of the time. And I have a safe place to live".
"Apart from the akumas".
"Yeah, well, nothing's perfect."
Plagg rolled his eyes at Adrien. "Cheese. Cheese is perfect. How many times do I have to tell you?"
The boy laughed, and ruffled the top of the kwami's head, laughing harder as the little cat-god tried to get away.
A/N: Thanks for reading this! I love reviews, let me know what you thought - my editing got interrupted a bit so there's bound to be rough patches. I had fun with lots of the little bits of Bronze-age Mesopotamian culture and what is now known as the Old Babylonian Empire (obviously it wasn't called that at the time). Also with the ideas behind how we make laws, and how that reflects our society.