The two men ride at a good pace up an incline, mountains around them. Eventually they reach the top of the trail, and the young man stares in awe at the sights that greet him. “You didn’t say how beautiful it was up here, Kiran. I can see for miles.”
The other grunts, a small smile appearing on his face. “The purpose of our journey is not for sight-seeing, William.”
William looks down on the grassy plains ahead, the first time for days he has not seen mountains to the east. “We must be close to our destination; you said it was east of the mountains.”
“What you see ahead of us is the nation of Areza, the true home of our order; a place where Revan does not dominate, and those who wish to think for themselves are allowed to without persecution.” Kiran’s voice has a bitter edge to it.
William frowns, involuntarily slowing his horse to a trot. “But Revan stands for nothing but goodness, does He not? Of course, the Priestesses wish everyone to follow, but I’m not sure that persecution is a fair description of how it works.”
Kiran pulls his mount to a halt, staring back at William. “You have no idea what it is really like! Our order has been all but destroyed because of them! They deliberately sought us out and are taking whatever steps necessary to stop the bloodline!”
William draws back, alarmed by the sudden outburst. “I do not understand why that would be. What has the Order done to deserve such treatment?”
“Our ideology and theirs are completely different. We rely on instinct, using power through feeling and emotion. Their doctrine forces them to be calm, reflective, and above all to ensure what they do is right. They are afraid of us, because in their hearts they know they are inferior, and they cannot win if they allow us to co-exist with them.”
“But why does someone have to win?”
Kiran smiles. “That is their problem, my friend. Frankly, they are terrified that everything they stand for will be lost should we gain the upper hand. We, on the other hand, do not take them into account when we take action.” His smile turns more sinister. “I think that is what troubles them the most.”
William moves his mount forward, and Kiran follows suit.
“I must know; why did my father fail?”
The older man’s face is a mask. “He wasn’t strong enough to take on what was required, William. At the vital moment, he failed himself and the Order. His only salvation was that you were already in motion.”
William looks worried. “Did he have to make this journey too?”
“Yes. Only he did not return.”
Olbane Jonson murmured a pleasant greeting, turned over in the bed, and reached out to embrace the wonderful young woman that he believed was beside him. He and Francine had enjoyed a fine evening, where they had shared stories of their respective families, and compared Susanon and Surian, and debated various political issues. They had also enjoyed a large quantity of wine, and neither of them had any inhibitions left when Olbane kissed her goodnight. One thing led to another and they had hurriedly paid the innkeeper for a room to spend the night.
Unfortunately for Olbane, Francine was not beside him, and when he opened his eyes and his vision cleared it became obvious she was not in the room either. He sat up, rubbed his eyes and yawned, then rubbed his temple to try and alleviate the banging that was undoubtedly caused by the wine. Perhaps Francine was down in the tavern, or had to leave early that morning.
Olbane swung his legs out of the bed and rose gingerly. He picked his clothes up from the heap all over the floor, dressed, and instinctively tapped his breast pocked as he put on his tunic. When he walked over to a table near a window, Olbane found a note.
My uncle can help you with your problem. People like these need to be taught a lesson. Come to the address below and I will make sure he will see you.
You were wonderful.
Olbane cast his mind back to the previous evening and realised he had shared more than he intended. He had relaxed so much in Francine’s company and told her about the slavers, and his personal crusade to expose Black. Olbane was relieved to recall he hadn’t told Francine about the papers, but he wondered if he could trust her: it wouldn’t have been the first time that a pretty girl had been used to soften up a target. Was it coincidence that he had seen her in the senator’s offices, or had she somehow known who he was and followed him there? Olbane studied the address at the bottom of the note: he believed it was in the same district, but then if Francine’s uncle was who she said he was, that would have made sense. Olbane tucked the note in his breast pocket and decided to discuss Francine with the others over breakfast.
Olbane had clearly slept longer than he intended, because even Lia had made it to breakfast before him. Michael was also there, sat opposite her but not engaging in conversation; it appeared what had happened the day before had not been resolved. Olbane took a seat next to Michael and caught the attention of the serving girl; he needed a hot drink before he could contemplate what to eat.
Michael turned in his direction and raised an eyebrow. “What happened to you last night? From what I can see your bed was not slept in.” At the sound, Lia seemed to be jolted from her own thoughts and also looked at him, with a questioning look on her face.
“I stayed in another room last night. I thought you might want to be alone, Michael.” It was only a white lie.
Michael snorted. “So it was nothing to do with that raven headed girl you were talking to?” A smile appeared on Lia’s face as Olbane squirmed.
“Possibly, but I do not see what business that is of yours, my friend.”
Michael’s face turned into a wide grin and he clapped Olbane on the back, which made his head bang even louder. “That is true, but I must admit she was a beauty. Is she still upstairs?”
Olbane shook his head. “She had duties to do for the day, so I think she left early.”
“You think? Well, if you’d rather sleep than pay attention to someone like that, it’s no wonder she left.” Michael’s grin grew wider.
Feeling rather sheepish, Olbane brought out the note. “Well, she left a note, so it couldn’t have been too bad. In fact, she knows someone who might be able to help with why we came here in the first place.”
Lia looked surprised. “Well, her charms must have been special if you were willing to tell her about that. How can she help?”
“She said her uncle is an advisor to a number of people in high positions, and he might be able to use his influence to get me an audience.” Olbane admitted to himself it did sound an attractive option.
Michael, however, didn’t look convinced. “Are you sure about this? You seemed pretty paranoid about telling anyone before last night.”
Lia looked more interested. “Well, it’s not like you have anything better to do today, or tomorrow for that matter. Michael told me that you didn’t manage to see the senator.”
Olbane was surprised Michael even remembered that conversation. “That is true, but if it is some kind of trap, I know I would wish I’d waited.”
Lia looked sceptical. “Why would it be a trap? If somehow Black has followed you here, wouldn’t he just send some men to get you like he did in Crossmoor?” She grinned slyly. “You are quite charming, Olbane. Perhaps this girl genuinely wants to help you?” The grin became a laugh. “And you somehow managed to avoid nearly killing her first!”
Olbane blushed. “Alright, point taken.” The serving girl arrived with some coffee for Olbane, and he ordered some bacon for his breakfast. He tentatively sipped his coffee. “Lia, have you seen Carly this morning?”
The blonde shook her head. “No; she didn’t come back last night. My guess is that the temple accepted her back and she ended up staying there. They aren’t exactly strong in the freedom department, particularly for acolytes. I thought I’d go by there this morning and see how she is; assuming they’ll let me see her of course.”
Olbane nodded. “Will you come and meet Francine with me first? If there is something going on, I’d rather have my friends with me.”
Michael grunted. “Of course; there’s no way I’m letting you go without me.”
Lia grinned again. “Francine? Well, anyone named after the Goddess of Luck has got to be worth the risk, hasn’t she?”
A short while later Olbane, Michael and Lia walked through the commercial district, and were following directions given to them by the innkeeper. Both Olbane and Michael carried their swords, on Michael’s insistence. Lia silently wondered if that was a mistake; if Francine’s uncle was in a position of power, he might not take too kindly to armed men entering his home. Still, she was at least happy they were doing something. Since her recent experience Lia found it more and more difficult to sit around doing nothing.
The address led them to a rather grand looking street containing a number of large houses. Whoever lived there had money, and lots of it, and wasn’t afraid to flaunt the fact. There were also overt displays of power in a different sense. Almost all of the houses had some kind of security, whether that was large metal gates or even armed guards standing outside. The three walked along the street before Olbane stopped outside a house that would be considered large in most circumstances, but was only small compared to the others on the street. There was a gate, but no guards. Olbane opened it, strode through, grasped the heavy metal knocker on the large ornate door and banged it twice. Moments later a well-dressed, elderly man opened the door. “Yes?”
Olbane cleared his throat. “I was asked to come here by Lady Francine.” Lia resisted the urge to snort; Francine, in her opinion, was no lady.
“Could you give me your name, sir?”
“Olbane Jonson. Hopefully she is expecting me.”
The old man nodded. “That she is, young sir. “ He looked down and critically surveyed Lia and Michael. “And who are your companions?”
“Lia Essmoor, and Michael Eustace, my good friends; I was hoping they could accompany me.”
The old man bowed respectfully. “As you wish, sir. Please follow me to the reception room and I will inform Mistress Francine that you have arrived.”
They were led through a large and exquisitely decorated entrance hall to a door which opened into a room which Lia surmised was kept for visitors’ use. Michael sat down on a large chair and whistled. “Well Olbane, this Francine of yours certainly has gold, and gold aplenty I think. You really must have made an impression last night.”
Olbane remained standing, and said nothing. Lia took a seat next to Michael and her eyes scoured the room, and she admired the ornaments and furnishings. It was probably ten minutes before the old man reappeared. “Mistress Francine will see you now, sir. Please follow me.” When Lia and Michael rose from their seats, the man shook his head. “She has requested the company of Master Jonson only, I am afraid.”
Michael opened his mouth to object, but Olbane raised a hand. “I will be fine, Michael.”
The old man smiled. “I will bring you some refreshments, Master Eustace and Mistress Essmoor.”
Carly woke, after the best nights’ sleep she had had in months, and opened her eyes. The medium size room, although larger, was in many ways similar to her own room back in the temple in Crossmoor, and for a few moments she thought she was getting up for another day of study and acolyte duties. When she saw the robes of a Priestess neatly hung up across the room, however, she realised where she was. Once again tears of joy rolled down her cheeks, and she immediately dropped out of bed, sank to her knees, and ran through her morning prayers with even more passion than she usually did. It was only when she finished two hours later that she realised that afternoon prayers would have been more appropriate. She had needed the sleep more than she realised, and suddenly felt a little guilty: a Priestess didn’t sleep for half the day.
Carly quickly dressed, left her room and headed for the desk in the lobby. She wanted to speak to Thereza but realised she didn’t know where her friend was staying in the temple, or what it was she had planned while she was in Surian. If she had left the temple, the acolytes at the desk would know. Minutes later she was standing in front of the desk. “Good afternoon, Priestess.” The two acolytes almost said it in unison. Carly did not flinch, but did feel her cheeks colour slightly at the attention.
“Good afternoon, acolytes. I was wondering, has Priestess Thereza left the temple today?”
The eldest of the two girls nodded. “Yes, Priestess. She left this morning; I believe she was only passing through Surian.”
Carly didn’t stop to wonder why Thereza hadn’t said goodbye; that wasn’t the way with Priestesses of Revan. Carly bowed her head gently. “Thank you. If anyone wishes to know my whereabouts, I will be in the Commercial District on personal business. May Revan keep you both.”
The acolyte nodded and both of them bowed deeply. “Thank you, Priestess.”
Carly had already decided that she would travel back to Crossmoor the following day, but in the meantime, she would be able to say goodbye to her friends and tell them her good news. As she walked, a rather odd looking construction caught her eye: it was a relatively flat building that was round in shape and seemed almost familiar. When she moved closer, she noted it had very ornate ancient runes on the doorway. Instantly she knew she had seen it before, and when she had seen it. It was in Frodsby, the village they stopped in after being reunited with Lia, and it was during a vision while she was within The Peace. Carly tried to read the runes, but they were not in any language that she had been taught or studied. Carly felt compelled to enter the building and she tried the door, which was unlocked. Inside was one room, which like the structure itself was circular. It was gloomy, apart from candles that were apparently indiscriminately placed on the various tables and other pieces of furniture. Carly took a few steps forward and allowed the door to close behind her. On closer inspection the building appeared to be a library, with bookcases everywhere and piles of books on the furniture. There was also a number of ornaments, such as busts of people long dead, and stuffed animals mounted on the walls.
Carly couldn’t stand the eerie silence any longer. “Hello? Is there anyone here?”
There was no reply. Carly wondered why on Eureza she had seen the place in her vision. Was she supposed to find something there? Was it part of her Test? No, Thereza was certain that her Test was over. If she was supposed to be there, it was for a different reason: each vision she had seen was significant. She saw an empty chair towards the other side of the room, and decided to sit upon it and meditate. Moments later, she had controlled her breathing and felt The Peace take her. Carly tried to focus on her surroundings and recall the vision she had had in Frodsby. That time, however, nothing happened, and when her senses came back to the room, she realised she had only been meditating for minutes. Carly put her hand on a nearby table to help herself to her feet, but her hand slipped on something and she fell to the floor, taking the various books and papers on the table with her. Feeling decidedly ungraceful and not like a Priestess at all, Carly picked up the papers and the books and placed them back onto the table. It was only when she looked again at the contents of the table that she stopped. One particular text stood out, almost if it was illuminated: The Prophecies of the Dragon. Carly picked up the old and tattered book and sat back down. She then blew dust off the cover, which was dark coloured and bland, except for the words, which were white. She took a deep breath, opened the cover, and found the first page with text on: it was written in the common tongue, but the writing was very ornate, almost foreign in style.
Herein lies the prophecies of the Dragon.
The Dragon Order will ultimately overcome all.
He will be lord over everything.
The rest of the page was blank. Carly turned to the next page.
He will come to bring balance to all things.
For too long they have controlled The Power.
Those with The Blood will address that disparity.
The rest of that page did have more text, although most of it was ramblings about whoever They were, and why they must not be allowed to control the power. It appeared that whoever had written the text had copied parts from the so-called prophecies and added their own commentary. Carly skimmed over the next twenty or so pages, which was mostly a chronology of the early movements of the Dragon Order and their struggle to survive under the oppression of the church of Revan. Carly couldn’t help but snort as she read the ramblings; why would anyone in the church persecute a minority group?
Those with The Blood will grow in power and numbers.
Many without The Blood will follow.
Those without The Blood will pay the ultimate sacrifice.
The next part of the book was devoted to the Order growing, mostly in Areza. The commentary became more and more angry, and it appeared at one stage that the Dragon Order contained scores of men and women who could use the power, through their blood. Carly wondered if the Order was supported by a god, such as Revan, or if they had found some other way to channel power. As far as Carly knew, none of the other Gods had followers that could wield such power, although she admitted to herself she had never given it much thought.
One will rise to lead the Order against His enemy.
A great battle will ensue.
The First Coming will not be the last of the Order.
The commentary became irrational and the writing erratic, which betrayed the emotion of the author. What was legible was very disturbing. The text wrote of hundreds of followers of the Dragon Order, those what could not wield the power, who willingly gave up their lives to enable those who could wield the power to do so. There wasn’t enough detail to explain exactly how the process worked, and Carly admitted to herself she did not understand how a person would need another being’s life to draw on power. The commentary culminated in a very brief description of a great battle, where the First Coming was defeated by the evil church of Revan. She turned the page once more and found the next page was covered in what Carly surmised was dried blood, which obscured the majority of the text; she turned to the next page but found only blank paper. Turning back to the last bloodstained page, Carly strained her eyes and attempted to read the text. After a few moments, she managed to ascertain three words:
The Second Coming
There were more words after ‘Coming’, but despite her best efforts she could not read them. Carly wished she were with Elspeth back in Crossmoor; she was sure the elderly Priestess would know a trick or two.
“Why don’t you ask for a little divine help, Priestess?”
The words made Carly literally jump from the seat, and her eyes darted around the dark room. “Who is there?”
An old man came into view, and he hobbled closer to Carly. He was dressed in ankle-length grey robes and had long white hair. “Forgive me, Priestess, I did not mean to startle you. I am the curator of this place.”
Carly stayed back. “I thought this place was abandoned.”
The old man chuckled. “Abandoned? No! It is true this place appears abandoned, but I can assure you that is not the case. I look after these rather rare items on behalf of the temple. These works are not held in the temple because most are not that important.” He looked down at the text Carly had in her hand and smiled. “On the other hand, some are important, and are best kept out of the hands of those who do not need to know about them.”
Carly resisted the urge to snort. “Well, the security within this place leaves a little to be desired. I walked in completely unmolested.”
The old man chuckled again. “Not so, Priestess. Do you remember the runes on the door?”
Carly nodded. “I couldn’t decipher them at all.”
The old man grunted. “There are few that can.” Carly looked confused, but the old man waved a hand and continued. “Those runes protect this place from unwanted guests. Only those permitted to enter can do so, and those that see the building and wonder what lies within have a tendency to forget they did.”
“Presumably because I am a Priestess, I was permitted to enter?” It sounded simple enough.
The old man smiled once more. “To a degree, yes. However, some say that the runes are from Him directly, and only those that He wishes to enter can do so.” He chuckled again. “However, as not many members of the church are aware of this place, that has been difficult to prove over the years.”
Carly sat down again, and considered the situation. If she took everything into account, including her vision, what the old man said was plausible. “What was it you said about asking for help?”
The old man turned and walked, towards the door. “What I said was, you should ask for divine help.” He winked at her and closed the door behind him.
It was a few moments before Carly realised what he was referring to: Revan’s Grace; something she had not given any thought to since Thereza confirmed she was a Priestess. Carly ran her fingers down the seam on her robe, and felt the undulations of the ornate design that marked it as a Priestesses’ garment. Because she had not been able to connect with Revan during her long time as an acolyte, Carly’s only experience using Revan’s Grace had been those two acts of instinctive self defence. That time, however, she was a Priestess, at one with Revan. Carly closed her eyes, whispered a prayer of strength and courage and focused her will on the page in front of her. Moments later, she opened her eyes.
The Second Coming will be a long time after the First.
The line that cannot be broken will provide The Blood.
The line that must wait will ensure balance is restored.
No more of the page became visible. Carly read and re-read the passage, but could find no particular meaning in the words. She wondered why she had come there, and whether she was meant to read the book, but could find no particular meaning in that either. She glanced back at the page, and noticed that the rest of the passage was covered in blood once more. Despite her frustration at her lack of understanding of why she was there, Carly felt pure joy and a feeling of exhilaration washed over her. She had asked to connect with Revan, and He had answered.
Olbane was led into a drawing room, where Francine was sat waiting for him. She had chosen a simple dress but still looked beautiful. She rose when he entered, and had a smile on her face. “You may leave us now, Ganner.”
The old man bowed. “As you wish, mistress Francine. I need to attend to master Jonson’s companions.” The smile disappeared from her face.
Olbane took her hand and kissed it. “I travelled to Surian with some friends, and they came along this morning to keep me company. You need not be concerned; they are good folk.” Olbane smiled. “Why did you leave in silence this morning? You should have woken me.”
She appeared to relax, then grinned and kissed him on the cheek. “I would never have got back here if I had done that, Olbane. And besides, you were sleeping like a baby.”
Olbane grinned back. “That was true; it was mid-morning when I woke.”
Francine sat down and smiled. “Then I made the right decision, didn’t I?”
Olbane took a seat opposite her. “Thanks for inviting me here today; your offer of help couldn’t have come at a better time.”
She picked up a cup of coffee and sipped from it. “My uncle takes a healthy interest in a lot of subjects, and has a lot of people he advises and helps. When I saw you in Senator Hiron’s offices and talked to you last night, I knew you were a man of conviction. I suspected you were in trouble and needed help.” She gestured to the cups and coffee pot on the table in front of her. “Please, help yourself.”
Olbane took a cup and poured himself a coffee, which was exquisite, and something his father could not afford to trade. “Is your uncle here?”
Olbane instinctively patted his breast pocket, then Francine picked up a small bell from the table and rang it. “Ganner will inform my uncle we are ready for him.”
Moments later the door opened. A tall, thin man in his fifties thanked Ganner and entered the room. He was dressed in fine clothing and was carrying a large pile of papers. Olbane rose from his seat and held out his hand. “Olbane Jonson.”
The older man put down his pile of papers on a nearby table and accepted the greeting. “Rogen Flaun. It appears we have something in common; please, sit down.”
Olbane did so and Flaun took a seat next to Francine. “I expect my niece has told you a little of what I do. I advise a number of politicians and wealthy merchants. A debt from a long time ago has been called in that means our paths must cross.”
Olbane looked confused, so Flaun continued. “I believe you have something that belongs to my old acquaintance.” Francine glanced at her uncle, with a shocked expression on her face.
Olbane finally found his voice. “I do not understand. I thought I was here for you to help me? Francine said…”
“Francine did as she was told!” Flaun snapped, and Francine cringed almost as if his words were a physical blow. “She is no concern of yours any more, and neither are those papers you carry.”
Olbane stood up and his eyes levelled on Francine. “You knew about this? Were you looking for me yesterday on purpose?”
She shook her head vigorously. “I thought we could help you!”
Flaun glared at her. “Did you honestly think I would send you to help a complete stranger? I gave you more credit than that, Francine!”
Olbane’s voice rose to a shout. “What about those who are enslaved? Don’t you want to help them?”
Flaun, who had remained seated, lowered his voice. “I understand how you feel, my young friend, but I must have those papers. You will have to find another way to fight your battle.”
Olbane was close to a rage. “I will see to it that Terence Black faces justice, and I need these papers.” He moved towards the door. “I am leaving now.”
Olbane opened the door and was faced with three burly armed men, who pushed him back into the room. Flaun remained seated. “Make sure his friends don’t interfere, and take Francine away from here.” One of the men nodded, took Francine by the arm and almost dragged her out of the chair. Both of them left the room, and the guard closed the door behind them. Francine did not look at Olbane as she left, but tears were running down her face.
Flaun looked Olbane in the eye. “Master Jonson, you can hand over the papers and leave peacefully, or we can take them from you. It is up to you.”
The room had been very quiet silent since Olbane had left; Lia had tried to start conversation but Michael was not interested. Suddenly they heard shouting and Michael was on his feet immediately. “What is happening in there?”
“It sounds like Olbane is quite excited, which most probably means slavery is being discussed.” Suddenly the shouting stopped. “Should we go and check everything is okay?” Lia got up and moved towards the door.
Michael quickly moved in front of her. “I don’t want to offend our hosts, but I agree. Let’s see what is happening.” Michael opened the door and saw the backs of an armed guard and a girl. “I believe Olbane is no longer with his lady friend. She appears to have been taken to another room.”
Lia shrugged. “Well that doesn’t mean anything. If this family is traditional, then she won’t be part of much anyway.” Lia had a rather disgusted expression on her face.
Michael nodded. “Somehow I didn’t think you’d fit in that well around here.”
Lia grinned. “Was that a hint of humour, Michael?”
Michael started to smile but the sounds of swords clashing stopped him. “Olbane!” Michael drew his blade, moved through the doorway, and turned in the direction of the fighting, with Lia immediately behind him. They had ran no more than twenty yards before Michael was forced to stop and defend himself as two armed guards came round a corner.
Michael frantically blocked both attackers while Lia ran back in the direction they had come. “Run, Michael!”
Michael lunged forward recklessly, and forced both guards back, but one of them caught him on his left arm, which forced a yelp of pain. Despite his injury Michael turned and followed Lia. Lia’s instincts told her to run to the front of the house and out through the main door, but she couldn’t leave Olbane on his own. They quickly reached the door to the room they had just left, with the front door of the house tantalisingly ahead of them. Lia hesitated, but Michael opened the door and pushed her inside the room, and closed the door behind them. He then hurriedly placed a chair beneath the door handle. Moments later there was banging as the guards tried to gain entrance. “That chair won’t hold them for long!” Michael’s voice was desperate, and there was blood running onto the carpet from the wound in his arm. They heard shouting from behind the door, and it appeared more men had joined the others.
“What do we do!” Lia’s voice was frantic.
Michael was piling other pieces of furniture against the door. “I do not know. I think Olbane is on the other side of the house.”
Lia looked towards the door. “Do you think they will kill us?”
“I’m not sure, but I am not willing to find out. There are too many of them, Lia. We cannot help Olbane if we are dead.”
Lia nodded sadly. Michael moved over to the window, picked up a table and broke the pane, then cleared away the large pieces of glass. His attention turned to the door, which was moving more and more as the men outside used their bodies as a battering ram. “Go! I will be right behind you!”
Lia hesitated, but then ran towards the window. She was halfway out when the makeshift barricade collapsed and the door burst off its hinges. Michael took three steps back as four guards entered the room. He turned towards Lia. “What are you waiting for? Go!” Lia sprang out of the window and started running. After only a few steps, she turned to see the guards suddenly rush Michael, who deflected the first attack, but took a sword in the side. He cried out, staggered back, then charged forward and slashed at one of the guard’s arms, which disarmed him. Unfortunately a third blade appeared, and stabbed Michael in the stomach. He screamed, and his sword dropped to the carpet. Moments later he collapsed to the floor.
“No!” Lia’s scream pierced the brief silence.
“Get her! She cannot be allowed to leave!” One of the guards ran towards the window while the other three left the room.
Lia stood still, almost in a trance, and the only thing she could hear was her own heartbeat. Michael was lying in the room, mortally wounded. She had stood helplessly as he gave his life to save her.
Suddenly there was a voice behind Lia. “I am so sorry; I did not mean for anyone to get hurt.”
Lia whirled around and was faced with a dark haired girl of a similar age.
One of the guards shouted. “Mistress Francine! Get away from her!”
Lia spoke. “You!”
Francine’s eyes grew wide and she tried to take a step back. Lia, however, was quicker, and grasped her wrist.
Francine’s face was panic-stricken. “Let me go!”
A voice came from behind Lia. “Unhand Mistress Francine, now!” She turned and saw a guard, whose sword was pointed in her direction: a sword covered in Michael’s blood.
“Murderer!” Lia pointed her free hand at the guard and Francine screamed. Within a moment the guard was engulfed in flames; he started screaming, fell to the ground and rolled around on the grass. Lia whirled around and gestured at the other three guards, who were running at her with their blades drawn. A moment later they were incinerated as a huge ball of flame tore through them. Francine was screaming, but Lia ignored her, and focused on the shouting she heard close to the door of the house. Within moments the front of the building was in flames and scream could be heard from within. An inferno raged, and Lia’s other hand suddenly felt hot. She shook her hand and a large amount of ash dropped to the grass and landed on a pile that was already there. With one last look at the house, Lia walked towards the gate, opened it and moved into the street outside. There was a crowd of people starting to gather as the flames became visible, but she wasn’t interested in them. All she could see was Michael, lying in his own blood.
That evening, Carly sat at a table in The Noble Senator, where she had waited for her friends since before sunset. She had checked hers and Lia’s room, but there was no sign anyone had been there since that morning. The innkeeper or the serving staff had not seen Lia, Michael or Olbane either. Carly sighed, finished her spiced juice and went back upstairs to their room, where she left Lia a note:
I have some good news for you – I have been accepted back into the church. Better still, while I was there I was told I have become a Priestess!
I am sorry we missed each other, and that I did not return to the inn yesterday. I am required to return to Crossmoor to start the next chapter of my life, and I hope while you are here that you finish Olbane’s business and return home, where we can be reunited.
Take care of yourself and may Revan always watch over you.
Your dear friend,
Thereza was right; Carly’s place was with the church. She was sure that between them her friends could help Olbane and ensure justice was served. Carly then wrote another note:
Since I left for the temple two days ago much has changed for me. When I arrived there I met an old friend, who told me that I am a Priestess and that it is likely recent events were my Test. Needless to say I am delighted, but now I am a Priestess I must focus on my responsibilities and return to Crossmoor. I hope you will understand this, and know that if I can ever help you, you only need ask. Your kind words and unbreakable faith in me has been very important over these difficult days, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Please take care of yourself and may Revan bless you and watch over you. If you are passing through Crossmoor on your return to Susanon, please come by the temple.
Carly folded the note and slid it under the door of Olbane and Michael’s room. She found it surprisingly difficult to write the note to Olbane, which caused her to consider her feelings for the young man. He was gallant, handsome, and honourable, but above all else he had a good and strong heart, a quality not often found outside of the church. Carly smiled and shrugged; a crush perhaps, but there was nothing more substantial for her to be concerned about, and certainly nothing for a Priestess to give a second thought to. After she collected her personal possessions from hers and Lia’s room, Carly closed the door behind her and left The Noble Senator. She would spend her last night in Surian back at the temple.
It was well after dusk in Surian, and Lia wandered aimlessly, half in a trance. After the fire at the house, she had started walking and had not stopped. Had she been more alert she would have noticed that her feet were aching and that her clothes, hands and face were filthy, covered with ash and dust. On her way out of the commercial district a few kind souls had come to her, concerned that a young woman was wandering the streets in such a condition, but as soon as they got close to her they took an involuntary step backwards, made their apologies and left. Lia’s mind was full of images: Michael fighting and then falling, a burst of fire, followed by screaming and then nothing but the crackling of the flames. Lia turned a corner and bumped into a man, who was with two others.
“Watch it, missy!” His accent was foreign.
Lia ignored him and carried on walking.
“I was talking to you!” A hand grabbed Lia on the shoulder and turned her around.
“Leave me alone.” Lia’s voice was flat, almost emotionless.
One of the other men hissed. “Let’s do as she says! She looks unstable!”
The first man shook his head. “Underneath that dirt I suspect this one is quite a catch. I am sure she would make us a fair sum. There are three of us, and she is but one.”
“You slavers disgust me.”
The three men turned and looked at a tall man, who had appeared behind the others. “The girl is with me. You should listen to your friend; she is very unstable.” The voice was calm but assertive.
The first man didn’t look convinced, but shrugged. “As you wish, countryman; if we had known she was already taken, we would not have suggested anything.” The three hurried off into the night.
Suddenly Lia was next to the tall man, with tears running down her cheeks, which made the dirt run. “What is happening to me!”
He put an arm around her slender shoulders, and drew her close. “My dear, all will become clear in time. Let us find a place to stay for the night, where you can rest. Tomorrow we will talk.”