In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 4: City of Thieves

The gate was a simple wooden gate made out of thick tree trucks. It was strong, but could easily be overcome by fire unlike the big city gates made of metal and stone. There were no guards at the gate; the town’s reputation was obviously enough protection for the citizens of this lawless town. A cloaked man stood next to the gate as we entered. He leaned on a cane and had a hand out, “Would you spare some food my lady for a poor starving man? Would you feed this poor man who has lost everything?”

A stared at him and felt disgusted. This man had no need for a cane. He walked just fine. In fact the only thing wrong with him was his alcoholism and the fact that he begged or stole for money to quench his thirst for the drink. I ignored him. If we gave money to him he would come later to steal from us in our sleep. It might have been safer to just sleep on the road, but I would protect the group. I was strong enough to fight off everyone by myself.

A small and ragged brown haired kid ran up to our group, “M’ Lady, let me show you the way to an inn. I can show you the best in of Sendisian’s End. All I ask is one sendisian and you won’t be disappointed.”

That was a steep price for help, but we were likely to end up on the wrong side of town otherwise, and at least this kid was offering a service even if his prices were exorbitant. Of course, if we did end up on the wrong side of town we would be able to fend off trouble, but Lyana would be helpless, and Parsa, Kyra, and Chrisin definitely weren’t fighters either. Darin could see me hesitating, and he quickly responded, “We would love for you to show us the best inn in town.”

He pulled a sendisian coin out of the pouch hanging off the side of his saddle and showed it to the kid. The kid leapt at the coin spooking his horse who bumped into Zentas. Zentas of course tried to kill Darin’s poor horse, and it took all of my focus to calm him down and not let him kick the nark out of Darin’s horse. Dimly in the background of my focus I could hear Darin “No, not till you show us the inn. I am a man of my word.”

“Easy there sweetheart. No one to kill right now, not yet at least.” I whispered to Zentas as I gently patted him on the neck holding tightly on the reins with the other hand. I quickly put my hand back on the rein and held the reins with both hands. His neck was arched with his nose tucked against his chest and his ears flat on his neck to show his displeasure at being held in. His eyes were rolling and he desperately was trying to find a way to avoid my legs that held him from spinning to kick. He pranced him place and repeatedly tried to yank the reins from my hands. An idiot ran behind him and he nailed them sending them flying. There was only so much I could do to keep him from harming anyone. If they were stupid enough to run behind a crazy horse that was their own problem.

Kicking that person seemed to help him calm down. He only bounce a little in place now instead of fully lifting his feet and his ears weren’t flat against his neck, but it looked as if they were searching for a new target. I needed to get him out of this crowded marketplace.

“Come on, let’s move before Zentas tries to kill anyone else.” Why were we still standing there anyway?

“Look around Zedi. Kyra has to save anyone and everyone. That person your dearest monster just kicked was pretty badly injured.”

I turned and looked behind me, and I could see Kyra leaning over a body on the ground with a crowd starting to grow around her. “Can we get the person in the wagon, and move? Zentas is riled up and this crowd isn’t making him any happier. The sooner we get moving the happier he will be. A person was shoved near him, and he almost managed to get out of my hand to bite them, but I held him back. If I had to I would force his will, but that was last resort. I liked his temper, and I hated having to force a will to my own, even for a short time.

When I could take my attention of Zentas again I noticed Darin had ridden the ever calm and city trained Damaskin over toward Kyra. Great. Now I had to focus on a horse and on being in the lead. Of course, people were staying clear of Zentas for the most part, but the crowd was growing with all the fuss and commotion, and with the growing crowd the more Zentas was losing it. I couldn’t keep him in front. I should force his will. I should calm him, but I was kind of enjoying the fear in the eyes of the people that saw him, though I could also see lust for such a horse in some eyes.

“Let’s move out. The man will be fine. Kyra was just checking on him.” Darin called out.

The child motioned for us to follow, and I softened my hands just enough to allow Zentas to slowly move forward, and the rest of the group followed me. I kept looking around and skimming the windows with my eyes looking for a false movement of the tip of an arrow or the shimmer of a dagger, but no one bothered us. We left the crowd behind us near the fallen man and moved into a quieter part of the walled town where it seemed like a ghost town. Here and there a face would peak out of a window, but then it would disappear back into the gloom of the rickety wooden house it belonged to.

We approached the wall on the opposite side of the town from the gate we entered. “See that place. Sendisian night. That is the best inn. Tell Master Leovis that Tiv sent ya.” And the boy slid past Zentas and went up to Darin with his hand out. “I led ya here, now my pay.”

I grimaced as Darin willingly dropped a sendisian coin into the boy’s hand. We didn’t have a ton of extra coin, and that was way too much to pay a boy for leading us through the city, but before I could even complain, the boy was gone, scampering away into the dark alleys of the town.

“Well since we just spent almost half our coin on a beggar boy… We should go stay at this inn for the night.” I look at the place the boy had pointed out and saw an old wooden barn that looked ready to fall down and an inn that looked only slightly sturdier. The best inn in Sendisian’s End? I looked back at my weary band and suddenly realized that without me they wouldn’t have come in here. They came only because they trusted my ability to defend them. And suddenly I wondered if I was being prideful and fool hardy. If this was extremely stupid and I had just walked into the biggest mistake I had ever made. I tried to see the future paths that this led to, but I could only see us further on the road. Whatever was about to happen was already set into motion.

I focused in on the part of myself that was the realm I normally resided in and where half of myself rested and focused in on the part stuck in a mortal brain so that I wouldn’t be distracted by the complexity and multiple chains of my own thoughts. Now I could see more. I saw a fight was coming. I could see the patterns of the people. The boy hadn’t actually expected a sendisian coin. No one could pay that. He told all his friends, and the news spread. The travelers were stupid and rich. The travelers had a healer who could be enslaved and sold for a profit or forced to work in the town. The travelers had fancy horses that would bring in a lot of revenue. A web was woven from desperation, and slowly the people of the city gathered. The cost would be worthwhile. Not even the best fighter of the dark lady could best an entire town. It would be worth the cost. So much wealth and so few fighters. Such stupid travelers.

Zedi, why are you awake? Surely you must focus on the world down there. I have seen the web you have woven. My mortal self was just very stupid. Zac was still guarding me.

I needed to see the patterns. My mortal brain couldn’t grasp them all. I needed the bigger picture. I must leave now though, before anything happens.

I focused all my attention back down on the part of me riding a horse. “Dy!” I looked over at the speaker and could see Darin was agitated.

“Yes?”

“Why didn’t you respond? Are we going to move toward this inn?” Were we? If we left we could be hit from all sides. At the inn we would have the protection of being against a wall, and I could destroy an entire town.

“Yes, I’m sorry, I was weighing my options.” A simple explanation for their simple human minds,

“What options? We’re here now, and I don’t fancy taking my chances in the woods.” Darin could at least see that the woods were not safe even if he couldn’t see what he started by giving that boy that coin. If he died I wouldn’t shed a tear. He had put us all in danger.

Once again we moved forward and up to the old inn. A man stood at the door. “Heard warning you folk were coming. I ain’t got the stalls for that many beasts though. You can tie ’em on the posts in the yard for the night. ’tween the posts and the four stalls in that old bar we got enough. And we have one nice fine room that would fit all ye folks and a hot soup boiling in the pot over the fire. All just a single sendisian. It’s a great bargain. Won’t find a better one in all of Sendisian’s End.”

There was a sliminess to the man and his very readiness to take us raised the hackles on the back of my neck. He was mostly honest, but sometimes he turned his head the other way when the thieves wanted one of his customers. They wanted us. No. We couldn’t stay here. We couldn’t stay in this city. I could feel my heart racing. My human mind was tangling my thoughts. For the first time, I was wrong. I was never wrong. I could handle this. I just had to get these annoying and pesky emotions under control.

Was I being truthful with myself though? Could I handle an entire town bent on destroying us? Yes. I was a goddess. I was the most powerful being to walk this planet. Azira and I were the most worshiped goddesses. I slowed my heart beat down and calmed myself down.

Out of nowhere I suddenly heard his voice, “We’ll take it.” I slowly turned to stare at him. Since when did Darin make decisions? His jaw was thrust forward and his eyes were glaring at me defiantly as if challenging me to challenge him. I opened my mouth to tell him that we couldn’t stay in this town, “Fine! But you have first watch.”

I wasn’t sure where that came from or why I said it. Why didn’t I tell him we weren’t staying here? It was the human part of me worrying. I would be fine. And if this body died I would just take a human as my host. If I lost my companions who cared, they were replaceable. But they were my responsibility. I could never shake responsibility. I would take a short nap, and when the thieves came we would all defend them.

I jumped off of Zentas and tied him to the farthest post. He would destroy the barn in minutes if I put him in there. I walked over to Sendaas, “There will be an attack. Be prepared. Warn the others, and if they are willing to fight have them prepared. If not, make sure they stay with Lyana. Make Ollarin stay with them to protect them.”

“Why are you telling me this? I thought Darin was your second in command.” He was curious and I could see his brain making some links to my earlier outburst.

I quickly replied, “I’m telling Dairn too. I just feel like the other people that aren’t from the city trust you more, and I trust your judgment in placing people strategically. I’ll also tell Kyra, but I’m leaving the rest up to you.”

I started turn away but his hand grabbed my shoulder, “Dy, or Zedi, or whoever you are. Aren’t you the war goddess? Shouldn’t you be planning this? Shouldn’t you be in charge of this? You should talk to the others. Prepare them with an uplifting speech that will assure them of victory in your name. For all their distrust at points and sometimes even their dislike; they worship you. They recognize your greatness or else they wouldn’t follow you. The only reason we entered this city was because we believe in you.” That was it. I yanked my shoulder out of his grasp.

“I’m trusting you with this because I don’t have time to spread the word to each person and a big speech would alert the innkeeper we know. I need to figure out numbers and where they’ll be coming from. Lyana needs time out of the wagon to sleep. Just do as I tell you.” I turned away without waiting for a reply. I was the dark lady. I didn’t need to justify myself!

I stopped. My heart was pounding in my chest and my thoughts were running rampant. Everything called out for more time and I realized my body was panicking. Calm. I was calm. I was the breath of wind gently blowing over the fields ruffling the wheat but not damaging it. I was calm. I forced my breathing to slow down and my pulse to calm down. Everything was alright. I would be alright. I was the dark lady and my fighting skills could beat any number of assailants. If I tired I could refresh my body with the unlimited power I had access to so that I would never tire. I needed to talk to Darin. I looked around and saw him taking the tack off his horse.

“Wait, Darin. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.”

“So now the good idea fairy comes out? Zedi, he needs a break. If we have to leave quickly I’ll put the tack in the wagon and ride bareback until we get to a place we can stop. I can do that even if it is uncomfortable.” He meticulously checked every inch of the tack as he took it off. He didn’t even look at me as he was talking.

“Darin, we are going to be attacked. We paid that child too much. The people think we are rich.” Why wasn’t he taking me seriously?

“I know that Zedi. I tried to warn you but you wouldn’t listen. You ride into the city of thieves and you can expect to be attacked. We should have camped outside tonight, but you are convinced of your ability to fight any assault. The way I see it we are stuck here now till morning, and if an assault comes we will fight it off. And if we fight through the night, so be it. We can sleep on our horses tomorrow on the way to Sendisian. You should untack Zentas. He would be able to move better and protect himself better without tack hindering him.” He gestured over at Zentas still not looking at me. Was he purposefully avoiding looking at me?

“I was coming over to ask you to fight in the front with me. As soon as I talk to Kyra I will come and join you in guarding the gate to the yard. I have Sendaas organizing the other fighters behind us and throughout the area of the inn with Ollarin in with the non-fighters. I will bring you a bowl of the soup the innkeeper was talking about.”

“Hurry Zedi,” and now he turned and looked at me and his eyes were filled with worry. “I think they are coming sooner rather than later.

“See you soon Darin.” I turned and walked over toward Zentas. He was right. We would be here till morning, and Zentas could use a break from wearing his tack. As I approached he swung his rear end toward me and I deftly avoided the kick he aimed my way and slapped him on the butt for his misguided and weak attempt to kick me. He through his ears back for a second and shook his head, but then he stood still and opened and closed his mouth as if he was chewing something. He was such a strange horse. I quickly untacked him and rubbed him down with the wool cloth I kept only for the purpose of keeping him clean.

As soon as I finished with him I looked around the yard for Kyra, but she and everyone except Darin had already gone inside. The wagon horses Fame and Fortune, Gegarat, and Tesa the mule were in the barn. All the other horses were tied up on hitching posts outside.

I walked into the inn and could see them all around a table, and Sendaas was talking to Zireana. He looked over and nodded at me as I entered. He had talked to everyone already. “Kyra, can I speak to you quickly?”

She looked at me suspiciously, but got up and came over anyway. There were other people slowly filtering in to the tavern portion of the inn for the meal and or for the drink that the innkeeper sold. “Kyra, I know you can’t fight, but can you make the room impenetrable till morning? I fear some master thief will try and get in through the window or through the door. I know I put Ollarin with you to protect you, but I’m not sure how much help he would be against a master thief.”

Kyra looked at me with a strange, surprised expression for a second, “I will, but only because I care for each and every person, though, Zedi, is that genuine concern I see? Do you actually care for the people in your care, or do you only care for the tools you need to fulfill your purpose?”

“I care for my own reasons. Now will you take the non-combatants up to the room and seal it? I need to get back outside to bring Darin food and help him guard the entrance and the horses. I fear an attack might come from within as well with all these people coming here for dinner. But I think most of the thieves will be after the horses.” Kyra nodded

“I thought as much. I will see you in the morning my partner.” She turned and left going over to Lyana and helping her up. I went over to where a woman stood near a pot of stew with a stack of metal bowls and doled out soup as people paid her a kopper. I pulled out two. “I need a bowl for me, and a bowl for my friend who is outside with the horses.” She nodded mutely and filled up the first bowl and passed it to me before filling up the second. I passed her the koppers and turned toward the exit.

Suddenly I could hear the faint sounds of blades clinging against each other. I set the bowls down in front of Sendaas at his table on my way out and then ran for the door unsheathing my blade as I ran. I could see Darin surrounded while other went for the horses. One man had already untied Damaskan and was making to run off. I pulled a knife out and threw it at the man, and the blade went deep into his skull. I threw myself into the fight. Letting my blade guide me and always moving toward Darin. I could hear other entering the fight and could even hear fighting inside, but my focus was on my own fight. I threw a dagger and cut Zentas free of the hitching post. I would pay for that later, but he could be a big help in a fight.

“Darin!” I called out but heard no reply. I fought on trying to get to the last spot I had seen him. I didn’t care if people lived or died. I just wounded as much as I could and fought on. At some point I ran out of daggers, and I pulled out my short sword with my off hand.

Suddenly I heard a faint cy, “Zedi!” and that was it. I was tired of these pesky thieves. I released a wind that knocked everyone down. I let the darkness consume me and those who tried to stand up and get in my way I slew without thought.

I could see him, lying on the ground with a pool of blood forming around him. “NO!” I screamed, and my scream took all the light out of the area around me. The stupid thieves froze, unsure of what was happening. They prayed to the their god and goddess of thievery, but they had never seen true power. They had never met with a goddess and they cowered back from me.

“How dare you attack the dark goddess! You simple fools to think you could beat me! No one can beat me.” And then they all turned to attack me. They feared for their lives and attacked with the fear of a cornered animal, and I fought in return. I was angry, and I used my blade to kill in that crushing darkness. The strength of my rage ran through my blades and ripped the souls from any who dared to fight me. Bodies fell around me, and I fought forward to reach Darin, and then there were no more.

I released the darkness and ran to Darin who was trying to reach for his sword, and then he looked up at me with anguished eyes, “Zedi, they took Damaskan. I have to get him back! Help me up Zedi. I’m sorry I couldn’t hold them back. There were just too many.”

For a second I just stared at him debating between smacking him and hugging him, and I end up grabbing him into a hug and then releasing him and promptly smacking him. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again. I thought you were dead!”

“Ow, Zedi, what’s wrong? You can replace me.” What was wrong with me? I was acting like an emotional mess. He was clutching at his side and I could see his fingers were cover in blood. “I’m sorry I got knocked over. I’m not as good as you are Zedi. I’m not perfect.”

I unbuckled my breastplate and undid my belt so I could pull strips of fabric, “Don’t worry. I will get Damaskan back. I just need you not to die right now.”

“Since when did you care about me?” Since when did I care? Since when did my heart start racing at the thought of him dying. I had to pull myself together. I was the goddess of death!

I used my blade and cut a piece of fabric from my tunic and lifted his hand long enough to put it against the cut. He was losing too much blood, “Since I might lose a good fighting partner. Good fighting partners are hard to find these days.”

The wound was too deep,“Sendaas, get Kyra now! We’re going to lose him!”

“I’m right here Zedi. You haven’t lost me yet. I kind of like this softer side of you,” his voice was quiet and his face was turning white as his body went into shock.

“I’m not going soft,” I responded without even thinking about it. My focus was on tearing up more cloth to hold against the wound to try and stop the bleeding.

“Of course you’re not. World would stop spinning if you went soft. Imagine that. A soft and sweet goddess of darkness, death, and war. Hey Zedi… I’m cold. You wouldn’t mind if I just fall asleep. Hate to bleed on you, but I’m so tired.” Hi eyelids were drooping and it was only my arms supporting him that kept him upright.

“You can’t sleep yet. I still need your help down here. You die on me now and I will make every second of your life miserable.”

“How could it be worse… Already… with you so close… but always so far…” It seemed as if he was speaking through fog. As if I was missing parts of what he was saying.

He lifted up his hand and raised it to my face. He looked up at me, “Keep strong, my dear Zedi,” and then his hand fell back to his side, his eyes closed completely and his breathing became labored. Blood covered my hands and dripped onto the ground underneath. “KYRA!”

When would she get here? Only she could save him. I had no power for healing.

“I’m right here Zedi. I need you to move toward his head so I can see his side.” I did as she asked and laid his head on my thighs as I sat back on my feet. Where I touched his face my hands left bloody prints.

Kyra placed her hands on the make shift bandage and then she pulled at the bandage that was stuck to the wound. “We’ll need to put a wrap around his waist to keep him from picking at it when he wakes.”

“What did you do? One minute he was bleeding so much I thought he was going to die and then you came.” I wasn’t sure why I was so worried about him or why I felt the need to know more. I wanted to know what Kyra had done, and in the past I simply accepted her healing.

“I created a barrier of pure energy where the cut is that will keep him from bleeding out, speed up the process of the blood clotting, and heal the wound faster. Wait, there’s some ill humors in the wound…” She let the sentence die as she reached her hand out to his wound. As her fingers went into his side I could see a shimmer of the energy barrier. It was such a strange thing, like clear skin where I could see the blood up against it.

Her hand came out bloody with her fingers curled around something. Suddenly her fingers went loose and I grabbed her as she collapsed to the side. She had used too much energy. I gave her a small gift of energy.

She bolted upright, “What happened?”

“You used a lot of energy and fainted so I gave you a small gift of energy.” I could be kind… sometimes… when it suited me.

“What were you thinking? You just fought a battle and we might need to fight more and you gave me energy?” Wow, last time I would ever give her a gift again. So much anger over a simple little gift of energy.

“I think the thing you should be saying is Thank you. And anyway, I have plenty of energy, an entire universe full of energy.” Now she looked simply upset.

“Zedi, where do you think that energy comes from? We humans make our personal energy from the combination of sleeping and eating plants and animals. Animals get their food from either eating plants or eating other animals or both like humans. Plants get their energy from the sun. “

“Kyra…”

“And the sun makes its own energy. Kind of like a volcano makes its own energy. But the point is that the energy you gave me comes from somewhere. The closer a person is to death the more energy it takes for me to actually heal them. If a person dies I would have to sacrifice my own life energy to bring them back. Nature must have a balance. Taking the poison out of Darin took a lot of energy because it was killing him.”

“Kyra…”

“And I try to keep balance in the world. Your endless supply of energy comes from the universe and you kill things to take their energy for your own purposes. That’s what happens to create balance…”

“KYRA!”

“What?” Her top lip was pushed over her bottom and it looked like she was pouting.

“I took the energy from the sun this time. Happy?” She looked surprised and then her face became blank.

“Well, I’m never happy, but it will do. You want to come help me hitch the wagon horses?” She had mood swing issues that almost seemed worse than mine, but that was probably because I was on the receiving end of someone else having a mood swing.

“I need to go get Damaskan. Darin will be angry if I simply let his horse get stolen. Get Chrisin to help you or something.” I also needed to wash Darin’s blood off my hands. It was getting sticky and getting onto everything I touched. Kyra needed to wash her hands as well.

“Zedi, I want to talk to you. The lady of light has some things she wants me to talk to you about. Get Snedaas or someone else to go after the horse. Wasn’t Sendaas an assassin or something like that?” She was brilliant! Well, maybe not brilliant but it was a good idea. Sendaas was as stealthy and quiet as the best burglar, he was a good tracker, and more adept at everything a thief could do.

“Stay here with Darin. I’ll go get Sendaas and Parsa.”

“Why are you getting Parsa?” she raised her eyebrows and I almost laughed. She gave me the idea with Sendaas.

“I’m getting Parsa to watch Darin because she is a healer and she can keep him calm and off his feet when he wakes.”

“Ahh, I see. Hurry up. We need to get out of this place. I have a bad feeling about waiting around for everyone who wants revenge for their dead or injured family member.” I looked around, and she was right. There were a fair amount of injured as well as dead thieves. Some were calling out and I just hadn’t noticed them previously. Other things had been on my mind. They were a problem.

“You can help anyone who needs immediate attention while I’m gone.”

“Why thank you oh great queen. You don’t rule me. I was planning on helping them out anyway. Send someone out to pile up bodies and move the injured out of the way.”

I shook my head at her silliness and walked into the inn. The innkeeper was standing at the bar shaking. There were some men tied up in the corner, and there were a fair amount of bodies piled in the corner.

Everyone else, even Lyana, was sitting around a table eating and drinking, and laughing. They were sitting here laughing and Darin almost died! I forced myself to take a deep breath. “Sandaas, I need you to go after the thieves who got away with Darin’s horse. Parsa, I need you to watch Darin. Chrisin, could you help the injured that need immediate attention outside? Falarin and Zireana, ou two can move dead bodies outside into a pile and the injured out of the way so we can leave.”

Parsa looked mad, “Don’t you ever ask nicely?”

“Please. Now go. Everyone else get ready to leave. I’m sorry Lyana, but if you want to stay here you can, or you can go to Sendisian with us.”

Parsa stormed out and Lyana watched her go before turning back toward me, “I’ll go with you. I don’t like you, but I don’t want to stay here. Especially not after you just killed a bunch of their town.”

“Good. Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s move people. We don’t have all day.” Sendaas nodded and slipped out the door. I followed him out.

He stopped and turned in the middle of the yard, “Why aren’t you with Darin or going after the horse yourself?”

“Kyra needs to talk to me and she asked that I delegate the work and help her hitch she wagon, so I delegated to the most skilled people. And I trust you to get the job done.” Trust was such a simple word and it implied so much. I threw it out there because I knew that it would motivate him to do a good job to keep my trust.

He nodded, “I won’t let you down. You haven’t misplaced your trust.”

He took my trust so seriously. I didn’t really trust anyone, though I did trust him more than the others, so that counted for something.

Kyra came up even as he was leaving. “What was that about?”

“Oh nothing. You know where I can wash my hands?” I brushed off her question.

“It’s over by the corner of the barn. Come on. I’ll show it to you. I need to wash my hands also.” I followed her over to the spigot and we both washed the blood off our hands. I washed the blood from the people I had killed off my face and rinsed off the simple leather armor and breastplate I was wearing. It wasn’t thorough because it was on me, but it was cleaner than it had been.

I walked into the barn where Kyra was wiping off the cart horses with a piece of wool felt. “So what did you want to talk to me about?” I grabbed the collar as I went into the stall.

“What do you plan to do after you take the city? Are you just going to let whoever helps you take it rule it again?”

“I’m not that mortal half any more. I’ve seen the mistakes I’ve made and I’ve seen myself handing that city over three or four times before. I’m going to raze it.”

I put the breeching over the butt and pulled the tail through the crupper. The breeching helped the horses keep the cart from running off down hills.

“Zedi, it needs healing, not destruction. It could be a good city even without you or the lady coming into a human body every year. Kill the ruler and give the city a chance to be its own place without a ruler. Let it be a light for other cities. A city governed by its own.”

“If they surrender I’ll think about it.” I tightened the last strap and we finished with the Fortune’s harness and went into Fame’s stall.

“And what about afterwards? Do you plan to stay in the city? Or where are you going to go?”

“I’ve already thought about that one. I want to go back to Jerinacle. I miss that city in the cliffs. It used to be such a beautiful city before we abandoned it when the rift happened. I only vaguely remember it now.”

“What’s Jerinacle?”

I forgot I wasn’t talking to Az. I realized I’d stopped moving and I grabbed the bridle and put it on Fame’s head making sure he took the bit in his mouth.

“Jerinacle is… Well its an ancient city in the mountains. Its built up against a cliff wall. It is... was… a center of worship back before the gods betrayed us goddesses and the rift happened. It was abandoned by the priests and priestess that served us after we built the city of gods based in our new hatred for each other.”

Things before the betrayal were hazy in my mind. I had put so much energy into blocking them that it was hard to remember them.

Kyra nodded before speaking, “That’s another thing. You need to heal this rift. Its caused too many problems over the years. Imagine this Jerinacle place run by 52 priests and priestesses who were the respective voices of their good or goddess. A place only for pilgrims and priests and priestesses. A place where every person who lived there helped work on the fields, or crafts things for pilgrims to by, or raised sheep or horses. A place where no one was royal and powerful and no one was poor.”

“A place like that couldn’t exist. Harmony isn’t for humans. Its why war exists and why I exist.” I pulled Fame out of his stall as Kyra took Fortune out and we led them over to the wagon and backed them into place before hooking them in.

“Maybe not in a normal city with a normal government and normal laws, but what about a place run by people who couldn’t be greedy. What if you could kick out anyone who wasn’t willing to share or do their fair share of the work. Zedi, you can see into people’s hearts. You could control who could live in this place, and it would be the perfect place to keep religion alive even when people start to doubt as Az has told me they will one day.”

“Maybe Kyra, but it sounds like a dream. Perfect places are conquered by people. Life’s harsh.”

“Maybe Zedi, but with you and the Lord of darkness defending it who could ever take it, and who would be brave enough to go up against the gods and goddesses.”

Kyra sounded so excited. She believed so much in the ability for such a place to exist. So much hope. I knew better. Society would advance, and people would come to see worshiping us as stupid, and eventually they would stop believing. Kyra couldn’t really imagine that though in her tiny scope of time, so I just nodded. “Was that all you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well, yes. I wanted to bring up the fact that after the battle is over the world still needs to be healed, and so do the gods and goddesses.”

“Kyra, next time Az talks to you, tell her she needs to heal her own rift first.” I walked away to saddle Zentas.

We quickly saddled the horses and packed some of the stuff on the mule and the rest in the wagon. I wanted to wake Darin with a little gift of energy, but Kyra was watching him like a hawk.

“Come on, let’s at least move him into the wagon so that when Sandaas get back we can leave immediately.”

“I’ll help you.” I turned and I could see Ollarin’s bright red hair.

He was standing at Darin’s head. “Grab his feet and we can move him on in.” I did as he asked simply for the sake of efficiency. I was worried about him being out for this long, but Kyra didn’t seem worried.

I went over and grabbed Damaskan’s tack and threw it in the back as well. No point in saddling a horse that wasn’t being ridden.

I heard galloping hooves, and soon enough Sandaas came flying in on Damaskan. “Come on, let’s get out of this place.”

I jumped onto Zentas even as Sandaas tied Damaskan to the wagon and got on his own horse.

Lyana took up the wagon reins and Zentas and I took the lead. I turned my head back to make sure everyone was up. “Let’s trot to get out of this place.”

I let Zentas take a nice easy trot and behind me I could hear the wagon moving at the faster pace. I followed the route the kid had led us on only hours before and I could feel the watchful eyes looking down on us.

We made it to the gate only to find it closed. “Sorry travelers, better to stay in this city than brave these wounds at night,” the guard called out from his post on top of the wall.

“We would prefer the woods this night, so please open the gate.” If he wouldn’t open it I would knock him out and open it myself.

“Ok, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Zorgi, open the traveler’s door for the crazies will ya?”

A shadow detached from the door and a voice spoke out of the shadow of the gate. “Well come on.” A voice called out hoarsely.

I moved Zentas forward and I could now see a smaller door just big enough for the wagon was built into one side of the gate. We went through and I breathed a sigh of relief. We were out of the city.

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