He made his way to his tent, but he did not go inside. Instead, he sat outside at the entrance and polished his sword. He had a strong feeling that whatever was going to happen to him, it would happen soon. Probably before they reached the volcano, although he could not say why he thought that.
“Why so angry, Ga’briyel?”
With a scowl, he looked up at Telantes. “Why do you think? I am going to die again, and it will happen soon. I am going to be beaten to death.”
“I know, Ga’briyel. Yisu has told me.”
“Then why the question? I am angry because I do not want to die! Eighteen deaths, Telantes! Eighteen deaths in twenty-two years! Has that ever happened to anyone before? No! Just me! It took Ma’ikel five hundred years to reach a dozen deaths! It took me four moons! Four moons when I was six years old!”
“I know all this, Ga’briyel,” Telantes said, sitting down on the ground beside him. “You are strong, Anmah. Stronger than you think you are. You will survive this death just like all the others, and it will only make you stronger. You know that the more you suffer from a certain cause, the faster you will become immune to it, yes?”
“Yes, but that is not much of a consolation right now. Being beaten to death is not going to be pleasant. It is going to be painful, and it is going to take a very long time.” Ga’briyel sneered at the Debaduta. “Yisu has apparently determined that I need to know these things ahead of time. If I cannot do anything to stop it, why do I need to know?”
“So that you can prepare yourself for the pain you will feel,” Telantes said with a sigh. “If you know it is coming, perhaps it will not affect you as badly.”
Ga’briyel stared at the spirit as if he were insane. “I knew the Sarpa were coming, Telantes, and the pain still affected me! It always affects me! There was no possible way to prepare for that kind of pain, spirit! And when, not if, I come across them again, it will hurt just as much! And this time, I will not die from it! No! I will just be in pain that will not diminish or disappear!”
Telantes stared back at the Anmah, his eyes sad. “But eventually, it will not hurt at all, Ga’briyel. You have to remember that.”
“I do remember that, but how long until that happens, Telantes?” Ga’briyel responded, hanging his head and clenching his fists. “How many more times do I have to feel a Dirack’s flames or a Sarpa’s venom or be drained by a Takosa or stabbed by a sword before it does not hurt anymore? Two, three, a thousand? How many?!”
“I cannot answer that, my friend,” Telantes said softly. “Only Yisu knows the answer to that, and He has not told me.”
“No one can answer that except Him, and He is not saying anything.” Ga’briyel stood up and sheathed his sword. “I am tired, Telantes, but I cannot sleep. Every time I close my eyes, I dream, and they are not pleasant dreams. They are dreams of my death and of the deaths of those around me. I dream that Sophyra and my child both die as she is giving birth. She will come back, but will my child? Will my child be Anmah, Telantes? Will my child be doomed to this life?”
“Doomed? You think being Anmah means you are doomed?”
Ga’briyel shrugged and walked away from the Debaduta. His shoulders slumped as he said, “Not for the average Anmah, no, but for me, yes. I am doomed to endure pain that would drive most people insane, and all for the people of Duniya.” He sighed. “Has a Sainika ever had a child before, Telantes?”
“So no one knows what is going to happen to my child?”
“No one but Yisu.”
“And He is not telling.” The thought made Ga’briyel angry again, but he had no energy to show it, and he only clenched his fists. “I need to sleep, Telantes, but I do not want to dream, so I do not want to sleep.”
Telantes stepped up behind Ga’briyel and placed his hands on the Anmah’s temples. He mumbled something Ga’briyel could not understand, and then the Anmah slumped unconscious in the Debaduta’s arms. “Sleep, my friend, with no dreams,” Telantes whispered as he picked up Ga’briyel and carried him into the tent. “Sleep, and may the morning look better to you.” He laid the young Anmah on his pallet, unhooked his sword belt, and brushed the hair from his forehead, much as a father would for his son. “I am sorry, Captain Ga’briyel Mistri el’Adama,” he said softly. “I am sorry you must endure this, but you must. For the sake of every human on Duniya, for the sake of your wife and child, for the sake of your parents and friends.” Then he disappeared.
The next morning, Ga’briyel woke before the sun rose, but he felt good, even after only a few hours of sleep. He felt refreshed, and he did not remember dreaming. It was the first time in a very long time that had happened. He vaguely remembered Telantes touching him the night before, and he wondered if the Debaduta had done something to keep the dreams away. He would ask him the next time he saw him, but Ga’briyel was certain that is what had happened.
“Thank you, my friend,” he whispered so as to not wake Dinton who was snoring softly beside him. He stood silently, picked up his sword belt, and slipped out of the tent, stretching once he got outside the entrance. The camp was just waking up with a few soldiers starting fires and first meal. Others were relieving third watch while still others checked on horses or mended torn clothing. Ga’briyel walked through the camp, acknowledging the salutes with his own and ignoring the stabs of fear that were still sent his way. There were not nearly as many as there had been, and he could disregard them now. He walked out of the camp and continued east for nearly a league. If he was going to die, he wanted no one around him when he did. Something inside him said that he would not live through the day, and he did not want anyone to die with him.
When he reached the edge of the forest, he could see a village in the distance. He felt himself pulled toward it, and he heaved a sigh before forcing his feet to continue forward. He reached the first house half an hour later and instantly felt the sensations that indicated there was at least one Daitya and one Azazil in the village. There were only about thirty buildings in the village, and as he passed the first houses, the sensations intensified until Ga’briyel thought he would vomit or pass out or both. He knew what that meant. There were several Daitya and several Azazil in the village, and he was about to encounter all of them. He would kill the Daitya as he banished the Azazil, but he knew the men who remained would be the ones to kill him.
“Come out, Hellspawn!” he roared as he drew his sword, and bit by bit, every door of every building opened, the rancid oil of the Daitya covered him, and the prickling in his brain was almost unbearable, but Ga’briyel gritted his teeth and began to continuously speak the words that would banish the Azazil. “Yisu, kanba vol si e en sakorota. Veya Azazil lo tainon nun lenfi.” The Daitya surrounded him, but he just swung his sword, and with every pass made contact with a Daitya. Sayatan’s spawn screamed with the slightest scratch and fell to the ground. All around him were piles of ash, and the unearthly shrieks he had heard twice before filled the air as their evil spirits were obliterated. Joining the Daitya were humans--men who lay on the ground screaming as their Azazil were banished, their hands pressed against their temples. Soon, there were no more Daitya, but Ga’briyel was tired, and he knew the men would recover and kill him. The lack of oil was helpful, but not enough to dispel his exhaustion. Whatever Telantes had done the night before so that he could sleep seemed to have worn off, and he felt as if he could collapse and sleep for a sennight. He shook his head in an attempt to shake off the feeling, but then a large man stepped into view. The man had to be at least a span taller than Ga’briyel and fifty pounds heavier, and the exhaustion increased tenfold.
“Tired, Sainika?” the man sneered. “You may have been able to repel the Takosa and the Dirack when they tried to control you, but you cannot repel me.”
“What are you?” Ga’briyel gasped as he struggled to keep his sword upright.
The man stepped close to the Anmah and grabbed the front of his tunic, pulling Ga’briyel up onto his toes. “Let go, Sainika. Go to sleep. Dream your nightmares and wake to a new world. A world where Sayatan rules supreme. A world where your wife and child and parents are held captive for the amusement of Sayatan’s daemons. A world where you are helpless to do anything to save them from their fate.”
“No,” Ga’briyel mumbled, his eyes closing against his will. He forced them open again. “What are you? How are you able to affect me like this?”
The man laughed, and it was the sound of pure evil. “I am Mai Dabo. I am Sayatan’s vessel, the one through whom he affects this puny world. At the moment you could call me Sayatan himself. I am able to affect you because you are fighting against Sayatan, little Sainika. You are fighting against the power of the Evil One, and you cannot. No human can, not even a Sainika.”
Do not listen to him, my son. I will give you the strength to fight him and Sayatan. Be strong, my son. You will still die here, but Mai Dabo will not be the one who kills you. He is like the Daitya, my son. You must cut off his head.
Almost immediately, Ga’briyel’s tiredness disappeared, and he felt strong. Strong enough to take on a hundred Mai Dabos. He raised his head and his eyes blazed when they met the black ones of Mai Dabo. “Now you die, Hellspawn,” he snarled. He thrust his sword forward into Mai Dabo’s chest, and the creature dropped Ga’briyel to the ground.
“Impossible! No human can fight against Sayatan’s power!” He bent at the waist, coughed up black blood that smelled as if it came from a corpse three moons dead, and stared at the young Anmah.
“I can when Yisu gives me the strength,” Ga’briyel said as he yanked his sword free, spun in a circle, and neatly cut off Mai Dabo’s head. It flew into the crowd of men standing behind him, and the huge body crashed to the ground. There had to be at least a hundred of them staring wide-eyed and wide-mouthed at the head. Then they turned their gazes to Ga’briyel, and he knew he was about to die. He would take as many of these men with him as possible, though, and without a pause, he let out a wordless cry and threw himself into the crowd, swinging his sword with precision as he did so. He felt it cut deeply into flesh as he heard the accompanying screams, but there were too many men. As he brought his sword back to drive it into a man in front of him, his arm was grabbed, twisted, and he dropped the sword, crying out as his wrist broke. Around him lay more than thirty corpses, but there were twice that many men surrounding him, and he was quickly overcome with men holding his arms and legs and carrying him toward the center of the village. He kicked and squirmed, but they held him tightly, and then he sighed and relaxed, resigned to the fact that he would die just as he knew he would. Just as Yisu had told him he would.
The men carried him to the village square where there was a pole planted upright in the ground with stocks for hands and feet and head attached to it. They quickly and efficiently placed Ga’briyel in the stocks and locked them down tight. The Anmah did not even bother trying to get free. He knew it would be useless, that he would feel these men’s fists and feet, and probably whatever objects they could find to hit him with. He glared at them all, his eyes blazing brightly, until one stepped in front of him and grinned.
“You killed many of us, Sainika, but now we will kill you. Sayatan has told us that you have not been beaten to death yet, so that is how you will die today. Then we will dismember you and scatter the pieces so that they will never again come together. When you wake up at first light tomorrow, you will be nothing but a disembodied head, stuck in a cave somewhere no one will ever find you.”
“Good luck with that, you son of a troll. Within a few hours, there will be fifty of the Crown’s Guard in this village, and they will finish what I started. They will kill all of you long before you can dismember me. I only wish I could be awake to see it.” Ga’briyel spit in the man’s face which earned him a growl and a punch to the ribs. There was a distinct crack, and Ga’briyel grunted. “Is that all you’ve got?” he spat out along with a bit of blood. “It will take more than that to kill me.”
The man growled again and turned to the others around him. “Kill him. Hit him with anything you can find, but kill him, and do it quickly. If he is telling the truth about the Guard, we do not have much time.” He stepped back with an evil smile, and several other men stepped forward with thick slabs of wood in their hands.
“Do your worst, horesons! When I wake up, I will spit on your corpses!” Ga’briyel screamed at them.
The first man swung the wood, and it caught Ga’briyel across his left knee. The Anmah tried to keep in his scream, but he was unsuccessful as his kneecap shattered. Immediately afterward, the man swung again and broke his right kneecap. The pain was excruciating, and Ga’briyel screamed again. Then it was as if his screams unleashed the depravity in every man around him, and he felt blows land on his ribs, his face, his arms, and his back. He heard his bones break and felt the fiery pain race through his body. He stopped screaming after a while and just bore the pain. Finally, after more than two hours of intense agony, he felt his heartbeat slow until he could barely feel it. He was not unconscious, though he wished he were. With one last crack of the wood against his head, his mind drifted, and he died, still strung up in the stocks.
Had Ga’briyel been able to see what happened next, he would have rejoiced. Just as the leader of the village indicated to the others to take the Sainika down from the stocks, Ga’briyel’s company burst into the village and struck down every man standing. Several were trampled by the warhorses, while others were cut down by swords, and still others were felled by arrows. Within minutes, not a single man of the village was left alive, and Dinton and Tero reined in their horses in front of their friend.
“Holy Yisu, Dinton! What did they do to him?”
“He said he knew how he was going to die, and it seems it was by being beaten.”
“But why did he not tell anyone where he was going?”
“If we had been here, some of us might have died. I do not think he wants that on his conscience. Come,” Dinton said, dropping from Shala’s saddle, “help me get him down.”
It was a difficult task due to the number of broken bones and the amount of blood on the Anmah’s body, but eventually they managed it. Once again, the two friends carried the dead body of Duniya’s savior into a building and laid him on a bed. Then Dinton went to the village’s well and got a bucket of water. Tero found two pieces of linen in the house, and between the two of them, they managed to clean off most of the blood. Then they covered their friend and walked out of the house. Kajal met them just outside the door.
“He is dead?”
“Yes,” Tero said, sitting down in front of the door and unsheathing his sword. He laid it across his knees. “But he will live again at first light.” He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Yisu’s beard, Dinton, how much more can he take?”
Dinton joined his friend as guard for Ga’briyel. “I do not know, Tero. Hopefully he will not have to suffer much more. After all, how else can he die? I cannot think of any other way, can you?”
“No, but I am sure there is some way. We just do not have the imagination to think of it. Besides, even if he cannot die anymore, he will still hurt. He will still be in pain we can only imagine. And he will not die from it. You saw him after getting skewered in Grama. He was in so much pain, but he did not die. How can he stand it?”
Dinton sighed. “I want to say Yisu will give him the strength to bear it, but I am not sure I believe that anymore. I believe Yisu always does what is best for us, but I cannot see how that--” Dinton gestured toward the house. “--is best for Ga’briyel.”
“Neither can I, my friend,” Tero said, a frown on his face, and then they both settled in to wait for first light.