Tharren wandered through the tight spaces between the stalls in the outdoor market of Zahuto. The vapours emanating from the myriad of fruits on display sung a chorus of joy in his nostrils. Been a long time since I've seen this much food he thought as he stopped at one stall. He picked up two pears.
"That'll be one Siruman sir. " The feeble old lady said, the folds in her skin matching her smile.
" Here you go. " He handed her five gold coins.
" But sir... "
He shook his hand as he walked away. " Don't spend it all in one place. "
Those creases reminded him of her. Maybe it was the spark in her eyes that belied her age. Or it was her willful defiance in the face of his threats against her life. Cari's spunk had rubbed off on him.
He sat on a bench in the middle of the market square, watching the hustle of life play out in front of him. A lot had changed in seven years, even the air felt different ; lighter. He breathed it in and smiled. He too had changed, his frail exterior changing with every life he took into the toned visage he was. The number of lives eluded him, he never took stock in counting. But he remembered every one, and the power it bestowed to him. As he bit his first pear, his mouth drowning in its nectar he looked to the heavens, thanking each of them for their sacrifice.
"You're enjoying that pear. " Her voice sliced through the market's din like a gust of wind. Like the pear, it refreshed him.
" I am. " He replied, turning toward the voice. Her beauty stunned him. Her auburn hair glowed in the midday sun, complementing the radiance of her smiled.
" I haven't seen you around. Are you new? "
" I guess. Tharren's the name. I'd extend my hand but it's covered in juice. "
She extended hers, the skin on her hand shimmering much like her hair. " I'll accept it. Katherine's the name. "
They shook. Rather firm for a woman. He thought.
" So what brings you to our quaint little Isle? " She inquired sitting next to him. She smelt like morning dew, full of life and hope.
" A case of unfinished business. I owe someone a favour. "
" I hope it doesn't involve the thing on your back. " She tapped the hilt of his blade.
" Oh this thing? " He pointed to his back. " It's just a deterrent for thieves. I do a lot of travelling alone. "
" So how's the outside world? " Her eyes sparkled with curiosity.
" It's nice in some places: hard in others. Not that much different from here. "
" I'd like to see it someday. But that will have to wait until the kids are grown. "
" Kids? You don't look old enough for that. "
She smiled. " Yes twin boys. "
The bell on the clock tower rang, its sonorous clang reverberating throughout the square.
" Goodness. " Tharren said, jumping out of the seat. " I'm late for a meeting. "
" Well let me not get you in trouble, you already own them a favour "She replied, lifting herself from the bench. " Hope to see you around. "
She waved as she walked away, the bounce of her step in time with a melody she alone heard. He wished he could hear it. Her melody.
He walked away, his mind conflicted between the fine conversation he just had and the droll he was about to enter. He grew up among them. All except for her; she was old, although she did not show it. It was her he owed the favour; the one who blessed him. He entered the seedy underbelly of Zahuto; The Black Garden. Its produce was less than savoury: from drugs to prostitution, every vice existed in plain sight. Their captives were on full display, their eyes a mixture of ecstasy and apathy. Tharren continued walking, at home within the squalor. He understood better than anyone what it meant to be trapped by the lure of the unattainable. They were his kin. At the end of the long alley stood a black wall with a large cast iron door. It was adorned with several locks, a deterrent to the inhabitants of the garden: only a select few were welcome within its walls. He knocked.
"Who's there?" A gruff voice call from behind the door.
"Estriel nepthe criete de matal." Tharren replied his voice echoing. One by one the locks gave way, followed by the creak of the door opening.
"I know its the password but I don't know what it means." The stocky man said reaching for Tharren's coat. Tharren extended his hand to stop him. He wouldn't be staying long.
"You don't want to know." He replied walking down the candle lite corridor.
The rest sat together waiting for his arrival.
"You're late young boy." Shirel voice called.
"Didn't have time to change your face did you?" Tharren replied taking his seat. " My apologies to the rest of you."
" No bother." Matthieu said. "Shall we discuss your meeting with Cari? You didnt kill her right?"
The rest of the table laughed. Tharren flashed a wry grin.
" She's very much alive. "
" And the readings? " Lucien's impatience permeated his voice
" They are complications. " The room sighed." I'm a... Now what did she call it? A nexus point. Something about being able to change the destinies of the people whose lives I touch. That makes reading difficult. I'm going tomorrow morning to get the details. " The sound of his voice was complemented by the sound of bone raking against bone. " You could have waited until I was finished Ariel. "
" Sorry." Shriel's voice was low almost husky. Her face flatter and pocked with scars. "I'll do my body later so I don't gross you out my child but I couldn't take her face for another second. So... Girly. "
"I prefer it. " Matthieu jabbed. " When are the others coming? "
"Miguel and Marek cannot make it, paper work duties for his royal Degenness. Alamain and Gregor are still off island. They should arrive by week's end. " Lucien replied.
"Fine. We'll just have to fill them in when they get here. Shall we plan for his return?"
"Estriel nepthe criete de matal." = The star of death shall be born