In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 3: Whispers of Tension

I woke slowly. I was still getting used to this human body and its needs. I knew I needed to wake, and my body was naturally slowly waking up.

“Zedi, wakeup, quick.” I forced my mind into full awake feeling slightly dizzy, but I was up and on my feet.

“What’s up? I was working on getting up for my watch. I don’t feel any danger nearby….” And I didn’t. I didn’t since anything wrong outside that the camp.

“Layana’s gone and she took Gegarat and the wagon horses. No one else left with her.” I wrenched my senses inside the camp and sensed the wrong. Sarg it! I hadn’t thought that anyone in the camp would be a danger. I should have known… that bitch.

“I’ll wake Ollarin and Sandaas to take our watch. Go tack your horse. We’ll be riding fast.” I didn’t need to tack my horse. I would ride Zentas bareback with only a bridle to guide him with.

I ran over to Ollarin who lay next to an empty spot that had clearly been where his wife slept. “Olarin, wake up!” I commanded him with just a touch of my power to spark him into being fully awake.

He sat up quickly and just stared at me blankly, “Get up! Your taking my watch because your wife ran off with some of our horses.”

The red head blinked a couple times as he took in the information, and then he started getting up almost as one sleep walking. I glared at him, touched him again so I could send a little shock to him with my power. It worked perfectly.

He jumped and suddenly I saw reason enter his eyes. “Wha… why would she leave?”

“I don’t know man, but I’m going after her. Don’t worry I’ll won’t kill her since she is with child…” I turned and walked away not waiting for a reply. I still needed to wake Sandaas and Darin was almost ready to go.

Before I could even reach to touch Sandaas to wake him he was up with a knife out ready to fight. When he saw it was me he relaxed. Near him I could hear Zireana mumble in her sleep at the fact that the warm body near her was suddenly gone.

“Ollarin’s wife ran off with some of the horses. Ollarin and you are taking the watch while Darin and I chase her down.” He nodded to show he understood, sheathed his blade and stalked over to tend the fire.

I ran over to Zentas who spooked as he saw me coming. I slowed to a walk to show I meant no harm, and he calmed down and stopped fighting his hobbles. I slid his bridle on and quickly undid his hobbles. I grabbed his mane and pulled myself up as I swung my left foot up and over his back.

He danced under me, but we didn’t have to wait long before Darin was ready. “Follow me.” That was all I needed to say. I focused my energy and sent a thread out to find her so I could follow it to her. There! I found her!

I released Zentas and we were off at a full gallop. I buried my face in his mane so the whipping main wouldn’t sting my face. I tangled my fingers in the main just in case he spooked and I did lose my balance. I guided him almost blindly in the gray of false dawn having only my energy to help me know the way. Behind me I could hear Darin’s horse breathing in and out heavily.

The trees raced to get behind us and their branches tried to grasp us and slow us, but we pushed through. Zentas’s mad gallop slowed as his breathing became heavier, but he kept going. I carefully steered him around holes waiting to catch a horse in midstride and break its legs. No, I had no plans to let Zentas break his legs; especially not when I was chasing a thief.

I sensed her up ahead and almost laughed at how slow she was traveling. She was a pregnant lady trying to steal a horse. What had gotten into her mind?

I yanked out the sword I kept strapped to my waist, and came thundering up to her and spooking the cart horse. She barely managed to hold on and I could see it pained her.

“Give me a good reason not to kill you now? Or, maybe I should wait till you have your child and then I should kill you. That way no one can claim I stole an innocent life. You have been nothing but an annoying nuisance since you joined us, and I don’t see how the others can stand you and your bitter biting comments.” I loved when I was allowed to be honest. It felt so freeing to be allowed to actually speak my mind.

Darin horse came galloping up and Darin shouted out at me, “Damn it Zedi, what are you doing holding a sword out at a pregnant lady!”

“I am threating the life of an evil bitch.”

“She’s pregnant!”

“And I’ve offered to spare her child’s life and kill her after she is born.”

Lyana was looking between us like we were crazy, and then something seemed to click in her mind, “Zedi, you called Dy Zedi…”

He turned a pale white, and I felt some small satisfaction that he was bright enough to realize the problems this might cause, “Ummm,I call her that when she’s acting like the dark lady.”

Lyana was not glaring at the two of us, “Since when have we called Dy by the dark lady’s name? She is not the dark lady of war, she still has some humanity, or do you call her Zedi because she is the dark lady? It would explain her actions recently. Since when have you been on first name terms much less nickname basis with the dark lady?”

I hated that woman. I really hated her. “I have feelings, or haven’t you noticed that since you are so wrapped up in your own selfish troubles?”

“Lyana, we are simply here for the horses. If you want to leave your husband and go running off that’s your own prerogative.” I looked back at Darin who was clearly trying to avoid the situation, and suddenly I made a decision. Damn the consequences.

“You’re right Lyana. I am Zedigivikonola, the Dark Lady, lady of death, war, and destruction. But I am also Dyana. Dyana was, is, my mortal half. We have a mortal half so we can affect things on this plane in the human form. That mortal half is their own unique person while they exist, but they are not supposed to combine with the immortal half at any point or the barrier between the two grows weak until they become one again. Dy and the dark lady recombined. I am both of them.” Hopefully the explanation I gave would make the woman feel better about me. It was going to come out at some point.

Darin was looking at me like I was crazy, and Lyana had a look of pure horror. “I am riding in the company of a murderous unfeeling goddess?”

Now I was angry. I was the dark lady and she dared to speak to me like that? Did she not realize how disrespectfully she had just spoken? I let my aurora of darkness fill the space around me, and she screamed and cowered away from me. The horses stood there calmly not even caring that I was letting the glory of my legacy surround me.

“You dare to speak like that to the Dark Lady. I come down to this meager little world to free your kind from the control of the other Ladies, and all you dare to question me? Be glad I am not what you name me.” I let the darkness that I cloaked myself in slide away, and the glory of my being was stored away again.

Lyana was now complacent to my wishes. She came forward on the horse she was riding leading the other two.

“I will be merciful Lyana. We will stop at the next town or city until your child is born and Gegarat’s foal is born. At that point you may choose to leave and stay in that town, or you may choose to continue with us.”

I turned Zentas around and faced toward Darin who was smiling and looked like he was trying not to laugh, “Ride behind her so that she doesn’t try and run again.”

“Of course M’lady. Whatever the beautiful lady wishes,” I scowled at him and waved him away. For all that I disliked complements and flattery I could feel somewhere deep inside of me a pleased feeling that was saying, ‘he called me beautiful. Am I really pretty? Does he think I look nice?’

I couldn’t stop that nagging voice, that side of me that liked praise even though I shouldn’t need it. I didn’t want complements and pretty words, and it bothered me that I enjoyed getting praise.

I used my senses to keep on the lookout for any thieves wondering the forest looking for an easy target, but we came across none. Before long we came across the rest of the group. When we rode out a lot of weapons slid out of sheaths and a Zireana’s voice called out, “Halt or we will attack.”

I laughed, “Halt? Not all people traveling the roads are unfriendly, especially when they are your own people.”

“Dy, is that you?” I recognized this voice as Kyra’s.

“Of course Kyra. Can’t you recognize your own partner?”

“I asked for the benefit of our traveling companions who are bristling like porcupines ready for a fight. “ Kyra’s voice was now bland and obviously disapproving of how ready to fight the others were. Kyra was always the perfect white lady.

Why did Az and her followers always fit her description so perfectly. They were all healers and loved everyone but no one especially more than anyone else. I had issues fitting my description so perfectly. Maybe it was the more volatile nature of the description of how my personality was supposed to be. Maybe it was my quick temper, but I was supposed to have that. I wasn’t supposed to have feelings. For a while I had been perfect, but then I had to go and combine with my mortal half. Maybe that was what was unaccounted for. Maybe it was just my base personality without my mortal half attached?

Everyone was ready to go and on their horses except for the wagon since Lyana had taken the wagon horses. Lyana dismounted and Parsa went and grabbed the wagon horses from her. Falarin grabbed Gegarat. I watched as Parsa and Gonar worked to get the horses hooked up as Nyltar ran around underfoot. No one spoke.

It was Darin who tried to strike up a conversation, “Well at least we are ready to move out. There should be a town nearby.” And there was another person pointing out the obvious. Of course, it might not be obvious to the others. They didn’t know my decision to stop at the next town or city for Lyana’s sake.

I waited for someone to say something, but no one was speaking. Fine, it was my turn then, “Lyana feels it is close to her time and we will spend as long as she needs in the next city until her child is born. At that point she can choose to stay with us or leave us.”

Still nothing. Why were they all staring at me as if they didn’t know who I was? The horses were hooked up, but no one was moving or speaking. Earlier just some stares were directed at me. Now everyone except Darin and Lyana was staring at me. Suddenly I knew. Tyva… The girl had told them. She thought I would kill Lyana, and so she told them.

“She told you didn’t she?” now everyone was looking at me like they were confused. Damn being in this mortal form. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were thinking. I could only see the paths into the future and the past. Only the twins’ power could access the mind. Now I was wishing that I could see people’s thoughts.

“Why else would you all be staring at me like this and being silent?”

Zireana looked back at Sandaas who was holding her in front of him, and then she looked back at me, “We thought… Well, we thought you would kill Lyana. Ollarin was… We were all prepared to try and kill you… well, maybe not Sandaas, but he said you would do what was necessary. But even though he refused to be part of the plan to try and kill you… He still thought you would kill her.”

The sheepish look on her face just made me start laughing. I might have been able to control myself, but that look… it was too much for me. Just as quickly as I started laughing I stopped and became serious, “I would have killed her in a fit of passionate rage for stealing Gegarat, but Darin brought me to my senses. She is pregnant and it is wrong to kill a woman with child. I was also tempted to sentence her to death after she had her child, but again Darin pointed it out that the child might die without her. She was forced into our group to begin with, and so I made a decision that she might choose to leave after her child is born though she cannot take anything with her that is not hers, or she may choose to stay with us. All of you will have that choice at the next town. If you choose to stay with me though, and you later choose to default after choosing to stay with me; I will kill you.”

Zireana looked surprised, and then pleased. Sandaas simply looked confused. Kyra’s forever disapproval of me first looked surprised, and then a smile graced her face for a second reminding me of the beautiful carefree and happy girl she once was before Az stole her memory and changed her. Chrisin didn’t react. He was so open with his feelings that his lack of reaction surprised me. I would expect something from him. What was going on with him?

Ollarin was looking at me like I was a different creature. Falarin was smiling as if he knew something. Sarg what I would give to know what he was thinking. Parsa’s face was suddenly lit in a smile of joy, and she looked over at Falarin who was standing next to the wagon with her, but her smile dimmed when he shook his head and his hand reached out and grabbed her hand to comfort her.

Tyva nodded approvingly, but her face was blank. The girl had wonderful control of her feelings. She was such a strange creature, but she was a child of the twins and a mind meddler. Gonar looked confused, and Nyltar didn’t seem to even notice what was going on.

Suddenly his little child’s voice piped up, “Why not moving? We on adventure.” Suddenly the quiet tension disappeared, and Lyana even laughed slightly.

She smiled over at the child who was in the back of the wagon with the supplies, “We are moving child. Come on Parsa, the child’s right. We need to make it to the next town.”

Parsa nodded and jumped into the wagon, “Come on Falarin.” She offered her hand to him and he took it allowing her to help him up into the wagon. He would be strong enough to fight soon. On the other side of the wagon Lyana pulled herself up into the wagon, and no one offered to help her, not even Ollarin who sat on his horse not saying a word. He was staring at Lyana with a mix of love, disapproval, and betrayal. I wasn’t sure that if she chose to leave he would leave with her. She had left him without a word.

Parsa gently shook the reins and the horses pulling the wagon started moving. I took the front and Darin fell in next to me. The others formed a diamond around the wagon with Sandaas and Zireana taking the rear. It was strange seeing him taking such a liking to Zireana. There was only one girl in his past, and she had been sweet an innocent. She was not even a fighter. She was gentle and a weaver. She worshiped Epheminine, the lady of weavers, and she was killed by bandits before she was seventeen. Maybe people weren’t always attracted to the same type of people. I always thought that attraction was determinant. You had certain traits which caused you to be attracted to another person of certain qualities, but maybe that wasn’t the case, and maybe Sandaas had only like her because she was pretty and delicate; not because she was the one he was meant to be with.

“Why did you give me all the credit?” I heard Darin’s quiet voice from where he was riding next to me. I looked over at him, and saw his puzzlement. I had been carefully avoiding looking at him; I hadn’t wanted to know his reaction. I wasn’t sure why, but I had been afraid he would call me out for… for something. Now I wasn’t quite sure why.

“I didn’t want to seem soft.” It was a quick answer, but he was right. The others would have liked me better if I admitted to controlling myself. Who knows, I might have even given them a heart attack at the shock. “I am the dark lady. I’m not soft. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t skewer her right away.”

“Because you have some compassion. You cared that she was pregnant and had a life growing in her even if you didn’t care for her. You wanted to give her a chance. Your mortal half affected you.”

He was right. My damn mortal half. “You know, having my mortal half combined with my goddess self is really strange. I haven’t combined in so long… The feelings are so strange. Sometimes these emotions… They confuse me. There is a part of my mind still in the plane where the gods and goddesses exist, and there is a part of me confined to think and act within this mortal form, and the melding of my two halves forces me to stay partly confined to this mind. Its why we created our mortal halves to long ago, so that we wouldn’t have to be in two places at once.”

“You seem to be handling it pretty well,” he was smiling as if something I had said amused him.

“Zac’s been guarding my presence within the plane that I also exist within so that I will not be distracted down on the plane. Otherwise the twins could distract me at a crucial moment when I was fighting and get me killed.”

“Bu… wha..why?”

Apparently he didn’t even know what question he really wanted to ask. I would answer all of them, “I have never been apathetic towards Zac, and he loves me still even though I do not love him. We do watch each other’s backs. We are both the gods of darkness, and he supports what I am currently doing. He hates the Lady twins. I really don’t care, but we have never hated each other. Even though I have no feelings it does not mean I cannot work with someone and that I do not need someone fighting beside me and guarding my back. Just as you and I have each other’s back on this plane, he and I have each other’s backs on the other plane.”

Darin just nodded as if he could understand what I had just said. “So… basically you are in two places at once and have two guys whose feelings you don’t return?”

I laughed, what an over simplification. “Two guys who are actually both aspects of the same being, just as Dyrana and I once were before we ended up complete.”

“So technically you could split back up right?”

“No. The attraction to be one with oneself is sort of magnetic, and since we split ourselves apart to form the mortal and immortal part, it is more natural to be whole and complete. The problem is that when we split, we lose all memories connected to the feelings we split into our other half. What I did to Dy when I suppressed her feelings of love was suppressing my own feelings, but I didn’t realize this because I wasn’t whole and I had chosen to split away anything connected to prior mortal memories and to feelings of love. That much split away meant that it was only a matter of time after Dy was my host that I recombined with her.” I looked away from him and scanned the woods around us that we were riding past. I didn’t want to let a potential threat slip past my guard. I also didn’t want to tell him that my memory was not flawless. That there was a short time where in a fit of rage I had destroyed the memories of that time.

“So do you remember what the dark lord, Zac, was talking about, where you turned against him.” Why were humans so perceptive sometimes? Or maybe it was only this one. What was wrong with this human? Why couldn’t he just accept that I didn’t have strong feelings of love for him or for Zac. We were partners, and Zac understood that, or at least I thought he had till his mortal half started bugging me.

“No. I destroyed it. In a fit of rage I suppressed the feelings and the memories of any point where I ever loved Zac and by extension you. It was a weakness I was open to, and I have never regretted destroying that weakness.” And why was I truthful with him? I didn’t have to be. It wasn’t required of me, but I was. It must’ve been the fact that he reminded me so much of Zac because he was part of Zac, and Zac and I were partners and watched each other’s backs. We didn’t lie to each other because that could be dangerous, especially when 52 gods and goddesses were watching a world and playing with it. Something that needed to be stopped which was why I was here in the first place. Zac had spoken to me. He had pointed out to me that we were simply human guardians, and in return their worship kept us awake, but that the current system stymied their creativity and would eventually make it so that the humans couldn’t escape the planet and couldn’t colonize planets.

“Why tell me you have your memories and then tell me you don’t?” His stare was earnest and caring as he tried to read my face for unspoken replies.

I kept my face blank as I turned to look at him and I carefully replied, “Because I decided to be truthful.”

“Why though? Why did you feel this sudden need for truth? Wasn’t the lie enough for you?”

What was he talking about? I raised my right eye quizzically, “What?”

“I simply want to know your reasoning and the motivation and feelings that drove the change in your thought process that allowed you to tell the truth.”

“I don’t quite understand. You seem to think that there was a change in the way I was thinking, but there wasn’t. I simply said one thing that was broad and undefined and then a second thing that was more focused and to the point that slightly contradicted what I had said previously.” I knew what he wanted, but I couldn’t give him that. I couldn’t in good consciousness tell him I had suddenly changed my opinion of him because I hadn’t. He was my fighting partner, and that was all he was.

He turned away and looked at the side of the road scanning it as if something important was hidden under the leafy green canopy. I watched him and suddenly the thought flew through my head that he actually was pretty cute. He was well muscled, but with a wiry and almost graceful build, and his wildly chopped at black hair that was never longer than 2 inches and seemed to frame his face perfectly.

I’d never really looked at him and appreciated his looks. I was in a mortal female body now; I should at least be allowed to appreciate men’s looks. Darin turned to look at me, and I quickly looked away glancing back behind me. Chrisin wasn’t my type. Pale blond hair on a guy just looked kind of strange. Ollarin was thick and heavy set with that mop of red hair, and though I could maybe see a burly handsome guy, he didn’t seem that cute to me. Sandaas was ok. His brown hair was about an inch long and pulled backward from his face with a light amount of stubble. His brown eyes were set in a hard and defined hawk like face. His build was heavier than Darin but more wiry than Ollarin. Not bad looking at all, but for some reason I simply found Darin to be the cutest.

What the talve was I thinking! I needed to focus; not to go gaga eyed over some simple mortal whose looks caught my fleeting fancy. But he did have a really hot body… No! I couldn’t think that. I had a task to do that I had set for myself. A task that would simply determine the fate of the future of the world.

And why should looks matter? They didn’t matter. I was attracted to no one. I was not human. I did not love. I was the end of the spectrum. I was the darkness.

We moved around a bend and I saw a sign for the next town. I sharpened my eyes and read:

Town of Sendisian’s End 3 leagues

Sendisian 5 leagues

Sendisian’s End was a town in the lands claimed by the city Sendisian. The city was named for the mineral they mined that was their main trade. The town though was a small walled city of its own famous for the thieves that ran it.

I turned toward the rest of the group. “We will stay at an inn at Sendisian’s end tonight.”

Most of the group simply accepted that statement, but Kyra raised her eyebrows an rode up beside me. “Sendisian’s End Zedi? Are you out of your dark mind? You know what type of people live in that ancient accursed town.”

“Yes Kyra, I know. I also know that we need to sleep and that our group has a fair number of good guards. We can handle this city.”

“I fear you are too confident and we will lose to that cesspit of humanity.” It was a misplaced fear. She traveled with me.

“I will be especially careful then. I will not let anything be stolen.”

Kyra twisted her head to the side and raised her eyebrow. “If you really think so. I would prefer to ride two more leagues tonight than stay at that accursed place.”

“We ride with ex-brigands, what’s a couple more thieves?” I laughed but Kyra didn’t. She only glared at me and swung her horse around and rode back to be next to Chrisin again.

Darin rode in close to me in her absence. “Why doesn’t Kyra approve of this town?”

“It’s an old town know for thievery. We can protect ourselves well enough.” I shrugged off the question but Dairn looked worried.

“Maybe Kyra has a point. Two more leagues isn’t too far.” Not Darin as well.

“I can protect us just fine. And I think Lyana needs to stay in towns from now on even if she decides to keep traveling with us. We might not make it to Sendisian tonight. “

Darin shrugged and continued to ride quietly next to me. I knew that Kyra’s worry bothered him, but Kyra was simply a worry wart.

We ate dried meet from the bags as we rode at our slow pace toward the town. I sensed an ambush up ahead. I was surprised that any brigands would set up this close to the thieves town, but maybe it made it easier for them to sell the booty from their attacks.

I signaled a halt and whispered to Darin, “Brigands ahead.”

I drew my sword and motioned for the other fighters to draw. Lyana pulled out a short sword, and the children all had small daggers. The only unarmed people were Kyra and Chrisin stubbornly refusing to pull out a weapon. Even Parsa had a dagger she pulled out. I could see the fear in her eyes, but there was also strength of will in that frightened gaze. She picked up Falarin bow and strung it for him before handing it back to him. Everyone would fight.

For a normal band it would have been an ambush without warning, but we were ready. The second they came out we attacked. An arrow came shooting out from and archer in the trees, but I incinerated it midflight. I pulled out a dagger and attached flames to its blade that would destroy whomever it stuck, and then I threw it at the archer. The man was lucky and it hit his neck severing his artery and killing him before the flames ate his body.

I blocked a thrust toward Zentas’ girth, and Darin ran the man through while Zentas kicked another man behind him directly in the knee and shattered it. Darin’s horse was pushed in next to my own, and he protect my right side and I protected his left. These men were fat on easy steals, and it was too easy. Before long they were all dead. Three archers and 12 thieves that weren’t even worth burying. The other brigands in our group had an honest reason and had honor. These thugs were without honor and had raped and killed multiple parties of travelers.

“That was too easy. Too quick.” Darin had a point, but they were fat and stupid off easy kills.

“Yes, I will watch the rode carefully for more. Let’s leave these ones here as warning.”

“Maybe we can stay at the town for one night and then move to the city till Lyana has her child?”

“If you are that worried, and no one trusts my skills, we will leave tomorrow morning for the city.”

Up ahead through the trees I could see the gates to the city of thieves. We were almost in the vipers nest.

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