Half a sennight passed before Ga’briyel came upon a town in the eastern foothills of the Parbatas. It was a fairly large town, almost large enough to be called a small city, with hundreds of buildings packed tightly together inside tall, stone walls. When Ga’briyel came upon it, however, the foot-thick wooden gates were standing wide open, and, although there were guards in green coats and black breeches carefully checking everyone who came through, they stopped no one. The Anmah stepped up to one of them who had two silver embroidered stripes on his coat’s cuffs and collar, and the man’s eyes went wide when he saw the violet gaze locked on him.
“How may we help the Anmah?” he asked respectfully.
“I have been traveling for moons,” Ga’briyel said. “Where am I?”
“This is the city of Basanta, Anmah,” the guard answered. “You are welcome here.”
“Thank you,” Ga’briyel said, and then he remembered. “Is there another Anmah here named Debhida?”
“Yes, Anmah. I can lead you to him if you so desire.”
“I would like that, yes. Again, thank you.”
The guard just nodded once and walked through the gate after talking to the other guards. Ga’briyel followed him into the city and looked around him as they walked, At first, they entered a large, cobbled courtyard that was surrounded by what looked like barracks and other military buildings built of thick gacha logs stacked atop one another. Mud was packed in the cracks between the logs, and smoke rose from many of the chimneys. As they passed by, numerous soldiers came out of the buildings to stare at Ga’briyel. It was strange. He would have thought that because of Debhida, an Anmah would not have been such a strange sight for these people. At a second set of gates there were more guards checking the people entering the city proper, but the guard leading Ga’briyel simply walked past them, and the Anmah followed behind him.
“What is your name?” Ga’briyel asked the guard.
“Captain Jana Yamasa, at your service, Anmah.” The guard glanced at him. “What is yours?”
“Ga’briyel Mistri el’Adama.”
At that, the guard stopped walking, and he smiled. “You are the one who saved Debhida? You are the Sainika?”
Heaving a heavy sigh, knowing that there would now be questions, Ga’briyel nodded. “I am. He told you of me?”
Jana laughed, and Ga’briyel could not help but smile back. “He told everyone of you. Within the first two sennights Debhida was back, every man, woman, and child in this city knew what you had done for him. He is well-loved in Basanta, Sainika. Thank you for saving him.”
Ga’briyel accepted Jana’s thanks with a nod of his head. Then they continued walking, moving to the wooden walkway to the left of the cobblestone street. The walkway was packed with people, but when the citizens saw Jana in his uniform, they stood to the side, and the two men walked along as the crowds parted for them as a strong wind might part a puddle. Wagons, horses, and carriages rattled down the street on their way to wherever they were going. Here in the city itself, the buildings were again built with wood, but they seemed to be built with more care than the guard’s quarters. Every structure was sealed with plaster instead of mud, and signs swayed above every door. Even private homes had signs with family names on them. Inns, dressmakers, jewelers, temples, and homes were packed together, sharing walls for several stades. Every ten buildings or so there was a gap between the last and the next with a dark alley leading between them. When Ga’briyel looked down the first he came to, he could see another street at the end of the alleyway with as many people as there were on this one, but it was still not as crowded as Torkeln on any given day.
It felt good to be back in a city, however, and Ga’briyel smiled to himself as he listened to the noise and breathed in the scents of the market he could sense they were approaching. Within minutes, the street they were on opened onto the town center which had been transformed into a central market with stalls arranged in dozens of neat rows. Fishmongers, bakers, farmers with grains, fresh produce, and livestock--all were hawking their goods in loud voices. Jana ignored them all and turned left once he reached the center of the market.
“Not far now, Sainika,” he said, looking at Ga’briyel with another smile. “Just a few more streets.”
Suddenly, Ga’briyel stopped walking, and his hand strayed to the hilt of his sword. The prickling of an Azazil was rising in the back of his brain, and he frowned deeply as he closed his eyes and focused on where the sensation was coming from. In addition to the prickling was the fear that was coming from almost everyone around him.
“Sainika? What is wrong?”
Ga’briyel could feel the worry emanating from the captain, but he ignored it, for the prickling was getting stronger, which meant the Azazil was coming closer. He opened his eyes and turned around to see a large man with dark skin, black hair, and dressed all in black, striding along the market’s streets. The calls of the stall keepers died away as he got close to them, and the citizens shied away from him, not daring to look at him. Surrounding the man were five other men, their skin as dark as their leader’s, also dressed in black, and as they got closer, Ga’briyel felt the rancid oil of Daitya.
“Who is that?” Ga’briyel growled softly.
“Rabarta Arthara, the Chief Minister of Basanta. Why, Sainika?”
The Anmah said nothing but took one step toward the six men. The Chief Minister was looking at some fabric, but when Ga’briyel moved, his head snapped up, and his eyes fixed on the Sainika. He grinned, and his white teeth flashed.
“Jana, clear the market, now!” Ga’briyel snapped.
“Because there is going to be a fight.” Ga’briyel took another step toward the Azazil and drew his sword. Jana gasped when he saw the glowing white of the blade, and the Chief Minister’s grin disappeared abruptly. The five other men moved in front of him and unsheathed their own swords. The people in the market saw this, several screamed, and they all scattered into the streets. Jana had not moved, but Ga’briyel’s goal had been accomplished. There were no innocents around to worry about.
“Yisu, kanba vol si e en sakorota. Veya Azazil lo tainon nun lenfi,” the Anmah said in a loud voice, and the Chief Minister raised his hand to his head as he stopped walking. Ga’briyel repeated the phrase twice more, but the man just shook his head, looked up at the Sainika, and grinned again.
“That phrase will not work on me, little Sainika,” the man said amicably, “for I am not Azazil.”
“No?” Ga’briyel set his feet in a defensive stance. “Then what are you, Hellspawn?”
“Not Hellspawn, little boy. I am a true son of Sayatan. Had I known you were coming, I would have blocked your ability to sense me and the others with me.” The daemon grinned wider. “I understand you met my brother, Yaksaya, not too long ago.”
Ga’briyel returned the grin. “I did, and I dismembered him after we chatted for a while. I believe his head may still be falling down that crevice I threw it into. It was pretty deep. Now, your name is not really Rabarta, is it? Tell me your real name, and I will add it to the list I am forming of Sayatan’s sons I have removed from this world.”
The daemon snarled, and the Daitya surrounding him took a step closer to Ga’briyel. “My name is Kensaya, little Anmah, ruler of the fifth level of Hell, and I will kill you slowly and painfully for what you have done to my brother.” He spoke to the Daitya. “Hurt him, but do not kill him. Leave him for me.”
“Yes, Kensaya,” all five Daitya responded, and then they attacked. Ga’briyel began his dance, blocking all their strikes and, although he could have killed them with just a scratch from his sword, he delighted in beheading all five of them. He himself was not injured at all. Then he faced Kensaya, his sword held at the ready. The creature was frowning, and his eyes were narrowed as the five bodies crumbled to ash and the shrieks faded into the air.
“Not what you expected, son of Sayatan? Not so easy to hurt me, is it?”
“You are good, little Anmah, but I am better,” Kensaya said, unsheathing an immense black sword from the scabbard on his back. “I will torment you, little boy, for ages and ages. You will never escape me.”
“We will just have to see about that,” Ga’briyel replied, setting his stance. Kensaya attacked, and the Anmah easily parried the blow, spun, and slashed his sword across the daemon’s back. Black blood bubbled from the wound and fell sizzling to the cobblestones. “Tell me, Kensaya, how many sons to I get to look forward to killing? How many levels of Hell are there?”
With a grunt, Kensaya whirled so that he faced Ga’briyel again. “Twenty-three, Sainika, and each one of us will relish tormenting you for eternity.”
The Anmah laughed. “Not Yaksaya. Unless one of you manages to find all his parts and put them back together. That will be difficult. I believe I cut him up into fourteen pieces. Do you sons of Sayatan rot, I wonder? It has been several moons since I dismembered him. Will his body decay until there is nothing left but bones?” He stepped to his left as Kensaya moved. “He looked terrified just before I cut off his head, so I am thinking he is gone forever, like the Daitya I just killed.”
Kensaya roared and charged Ga’briyel. As he did, his body changed. The daemon’s skin turned from black to red, his blue eyes blackened, and black horns grew from his head until he looked just like his brother. The Anmah heard a scream behind him, but he only ducked as the black sword swung at his head, and he severed the daemon’s left leg at the knee. The creature fell to the ground with a very human-like shriek, his sword clattering away from him, and Ga’briyel stepped up to him and raised his sword.
“Two down, twenty-one more to go,” he said, and then he struck downward, beheading the monster with one stroke. Black blood spewed from the wound, covering Ga’briyel yet again, and the Anmah set about dismembering the daemon. When he was done, he looked down at himself, grimaced at the blood, and cleaned his sword on the daemon’s shirt before sheathing it. He stood slowly, looked behind him, and saw Jana cowering next to a wooden stall that had fruits and vegetables on it. “You can come out now, Captain,” Ga’briyel said softly. “It is dead.”
Jana stood and took one step toward the pieces of the daemon. “What was it, Sainika?”
“A daemon, Captain. A son of Sayatan and a ruler in Hell. He is the second I have killed.” Ga’briyel looked at the Captain. “Get several soldiers with horses. I want these pieces taken from the city and separated. No one is to know where any two pieces are, do you understand me? Each soldier must be trusted to keep the location of their piece a secret forever. If they come together before they are rotted away, he will be healed, and I truly do not wish to kill him a second time.”
“Yes, Sainika,” the Captain said with a low bow that put his upper body parallel to the ground. He ran off toward the courtyard, and Ga’briyel sat on one of the benches that were strategically placed around the market.
“You have saved us again, Ga’briyel Mistri,” a familiar voice said to his left. He turned his head and saw Debhida standing stiffly with hands clasped behind his back.
“I suppose I did.” Debhida sat next to him but far enough away that they would not touch. Ga’briyel couldn’t blame him for that. His clothing, his hair, his skin were all covered with the black blood of the daemon, and it stank like a corpse that has been rotting for a moon or two. “Did you hear what he was?”
“Yes, Ga’briyel, and I must thank you once again. This time you saved an entire city, not just one person.” Debhida stood. “Come with me, Sainika, and you can clean up at my home.”
“Not yet, Debhida. I need to make sure the daemon is taken care of first.” As he spoke, Jana returned with thirteen soldiers. They stopped at the edge of the market, and Ga’briyel stood and waved them forward. They reluctantly came, and the Sainika picked up a piece and handed it to the first man. “Take this somewhere far away, and tell no one where it is. Drop it in a crevice, bury it in the ground, burn it for all I care, but keep its location a secret forever.” Ga’briyel looked at all of the soldiers. “Do you all understand me?”
“Yes, Sainika,” they answered, and one by one, they came forward to receive a piece of the daemon. Jana was the last, and Ga’briyel gave him the head. The captain grimaced as he took it by one horn, but he nodded and left the market. Moments later, the sound of fourteen horses’ hooves clattering on the cobblestones was heard, and Ga’briyel sighed.
“Now I can get cleaned up, Debhida. Thank you.”
“It is truly my pleasure, Sainika,” the older Anmah said with a smile. “Come.” He led Ga’briyel to a home not far from the market, and within minutes, Debhida had a hot bath ready in the small bathing room, clean clothes waiting by the tub, and food cooking in the kitchen. He came into the bathing room and grimaced when he saw Ga’briyel’s bloody clothing by the door. “Do you mind if I burn your clothing, Ga’briyel?”
“No. I doubt the blood will come out. The first daemon’s did not. I walked for moons with that vile substance in my clothes.” Ga’briyel settled into the bath with a sigh and thought about how long he would stay in Basanta. Probably until Yisu or Telantes told him to leave. He wondered how long that would be.
“How is it that you do what you do, Ga’briyel?”
Debhida and Ga’briyel were walking through the market, and the younger Anmah was amazed that everything had gone back to normal so quickly. Hawkers were again touting their wares, citizens were haggling over prices, and the only thing that was different was that everyone he passed either smiled at him or reached out a hand to touch him, and some even bowed to him, as low as Jana had.
Ga’briyel was dressed in a fine, blue silk coat, white linen shirt, and black breeches tucked into knee-high black boots. His sword was belted around his waist, and he had a dagger in each sleeve of his coat. He felt better than he had since Mirstone; he felt clean for the first time in moons, Debhida had cooked him a wonderful meal that did not consist of any form of game, and he had even slept for a short time without dreaming. At Debhida’s question, however, he closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “Do what, Debhida? Kill daemons and Hellspawn? It is simply what I do. I am Sainika. It is my destiny to kill them.”
“Not the killing, Ga’briyel. How did you know what the Chief Minister and his men were?”
Ga’briyel sank down on one of the many benches and looked up at Debhida as he stopped in front of him. “I felt it. I have the lovely ability to feel evil, my friend. Although I did not realize daemons felt the same as Azazil. I suppose I will just have to try the banishing phrase, and if it does not work, the creature must be a daemon. I only have twenty-one more of them to kill, after all.” He said the last with a grimace, and Debhida sat down next to him.
“I hope you truly understand how much people appreciate what you do for them, Sainika,” the older Anmah said softly. “Everyone in this city was afraid of the Chief Minister and his men, and now we know why.” Debhida looked around the market, staring at the people with suspicion. “Are there any others here?”
“Not that I have felt, but in a city this size, I may not be close enough to feel anything. Tomorrow I will walk the city and see what I can find out.” He looked at Debhida, who was still staring at the people going about their business in the market. “Do not start suspecting your friends and neighbors, Debhida. That is a very bad way to live. No one here is Hellspawn.” Ga’briyel stood up and looked around. “I need to stock up on a few things, my friend. Do you mind?”
“Of course not, Ga’briyel,” Debhida said, also standing, but he paused before walking away. “Did you mean that?”
“You called me friend. Did you mean it?”
Ga’briyel stared at the older Anmah. “I did. You are one of only a few people I can say that about, Debhida.”
Debhida smiled brightly and walked toward his house. Ga’briyel headed into the market, thinking about what he needed to buy. More clothing, a few more blades, and perhaps even a horse and tack. He was tired of walking everywhere. He stopped first at a stall selling sturdy woolen coats and breeches, but when he had picked out several of each and tried to pay for them, the stout woman with gray hair who owned the stall waved his coins away and told him it was a gift. He thanked her and went looking for more shirts and smallclothes. Again, the stall keeper, this one a tall, thin man with few teeth in his mouth and little hair on his head, would not let him pay. At every stall he visited, he picked out what he wanted and was told that he did not have to pay for any of it. In this way, he got four coats and breeches, seven shirts--three white and four black--two more daggers, and a short sword. He also got a new sword belt and scabbard that held all of the blades, another pair of black boots, and a new pack to carry everything in. He was shocked, but the stall keepers told him they were so very grateful for killing the daemon that the little bit of coin they would lose was worth it to make these gifts to him.
He went back to Debhida’s house and found that the Anmah was not there, so he took his new pack, stuffed in the clothes and boots, and left it in the room before walking out of the home. He made his way to the courtyard and looked around for Jana, but he also was not there. Another captain came up to him, however, gave him a low bow, and said, “Captain Yamasa is occupied at the moment, Sainika. May I help you with something?”
“What is your name, Captain?”
“Jarja Syamulasa, Sainika.”
“Well, Captain Syamulasa, I am looking for a horse and tack. A warhorse, preferably, but as long as it can travel long distances, it will be good enough. I would like one that is used to combat, however.”
“Does the Sainika not have a horse of his own?”
“Of course I do,” Ga’briyel said with a frown, “but while I was up north, it got too cold for him, so I sent him home to Torkeln.”
“His name, Sainika?”
“Kumar. My father’s stallion, Gorshan, was his sire. A fine horse, Captain. He will be hard to replace.”
“I am sure of that, Sainika, but come with me, and I will do what I can to help you.”
They had taken a few steps toward the stables when Ga’briyel reached out and grabbed the captain’s shoulder. When the other man stopped and stared at him, Ga’briyel lowered his voice. “I will pay for this horse and tack, Captain. No more gifts. Do you understand me?”
“Gifts, Sainika? I am not sure what you mean.”
Ga’briyel released the man, and they started walking again. “No one in the market would let me pay for anything. They all said they were gifts for what I had done for the city.”
Jarja laughed. “I do not think that will be an issue here, Sainika. All of us know what our horses are worth, and none will let you take one for free. The tack, however, will probably be a gift from one of the saddle makers in the city once they find out you need some.”
Ga’briyel just grunted at that. They had entered the stables, and Ga’briyel took a deep breath of the familiar scents of leather, manure, hay, and horses. It had been too long since he had been in a city’s stable, and he smiled. Jarja led him to the back of the stable where five horses were munching contentedly on hay and oats. None stirred when the two men stopped in front of them, and Ga’briyel was pleased at that. It showed good training.
“These are our reserves, Sainika. You may purchase any one you wish.” Jarja grinned. “We can haggle the price after you choose one. I’ll leave you to it.”
“Captain! May I take them for a ride?”
“Of course, Sainika. How else will you know which is right for you?” Jarja left the stable chuckling.
Ga’briyel moved to the first stall, opened the door, and stepped inside. The dappled gray horse turned his head to look at him briefly and then went back to eating. He was almost as tall as Kumar, and Ga’briyel ran his hand over the stallion’s withers, back, and croup, checking for any abnormalities and finding none. He picked up each foot and checked the hooves, cupped each leg in both hands and slid them up and down, and then he moved to the horse’s head. He tried to get the horse to stop eating, but the gray was having none of that, even going so far as to snap at Ga’briyel when the Anmah tried to turn his head toward him. That was enough for Ga’briyel, and he left the stall immediately. There was no way he would purchase a horse that snapped.
He went through the same process with the other four horses, one a roan mare slightly smaller than the first stallion, two chestnuts--one stallion and one mare, and one bay stallion. None of these four snapped, and he was able to check their eyes, their teeth, their ears, their noses, and their manes. Only one really caught his eye, though, and it was the bay stallion. He was a bit smaller than Ga’briyel was used to, but not by much. It was time to ride him. He stepped into the main passage of the stable and looked around for a groom. He saw none, and he wondered if each soldier took care of his own horse. He walked out into the courtyard, and when Jarja saw him, he came close.
“Did you find one that will suit, Sainika?”
“I think so, Captain, but I need some tack to take him for a ride.”
“Of course, Sainika. Come with me.” Jarja led him to a building next to the stable, opened the door, and gestured inside, saying, “Anything you wish to use, Sainika. Choose what you need.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Ga’briyel said as he stepped inside. The air was filled with the scents of leather and oil, and Ga’briyel breathed deeply. He looked around and quickly found what he needed. He carried it all back to the stable, set it on a wooden horse, and then led the bay out of his stall by the rope bridle around his head. He dropped the rope and waited a few minutes to see what the horse would do. He was pleased when it did not move. He removed the rope and hung it on a nail outside the stall before putting on the horse’s bridle, blanket, and saddle. After adjusting the stirrups, Ga’briyel swung up onto the horse, and the stallion only sidestepped once to the right as he did so. “Good boy,” Ga’briyel said softly as he patted the horse’s neck. He guided the horse out of the stable and headed toward the gates. Jarja was standing to one side, and Ga’briyel stopped. “I may be gone several hours, Captain. What time do the gates close?”
“Last light, Sainika.” Jarja grinned again. “Be back before then or you will spend the night outside.”
Ga’briyel returned the grin, squeezed his knees to see if it had any affect on the stallion, and was pleased when the horse began to move toward the gates. Well-trained indeed. He was about to see how well-trained. Once outside the gates, Ga’briyel looped the reins loosely around the pommel of the saddle, and began guiding the horse with just his knees. The stallion responded to every command, and Ga’briyel drew his sword. When the horse continued trotting without responding in any way to the sound of the sword leaving the scabbard, Ga’briyel smiled brightly. He lightly heeled the horse’s flanks, and the stallion began to canter. Another heel and he began to gallop. Ga’briyel steered the horse left and right and about face, all with just his knees, and by the time he reached a clearing, the horse was not even breathing heavily. Ga’briyel reined him to a full stop, dropped from the saddle, and left the reins hanging from the bridle to the ground. The stallion did not move an inch other than to start munching on the clearing’s grass.
“A fine horse, Ga’briyel.”
The Anmah smiled as he turned to face Telantes. “Yes, he is.”
“I do not know it yet. I am testing him to see if I want to buy him. The test is over, however. This is the one I want.”
“Will you return to the cave for your tack? You know you are supposed to be headed south, not north.”
“No, it will stay there for now. Perhaps I can stop at Torkeln and send someone back for it.” Ga’briyel sighed, and his smile faded. “I would like to see my family again.”
“Have you not seen your son in your dreams?”
“I have, but it is not the same. I want to hold him and kiss my wife and sleep by her side at least one night. One night, Telantes. Is that too much to ask?”
“No, Ga’briyel, it is not.” The spirit tilted his head as he listened to Yisu. “Yisu says you may spend three days and two nights at home once you get there, but that is all. You must be on your way south after that.”
“I know,” Ga’briyel said softly as he moved to the stallion. He rested his hand on the horse’s withers and looked at his friend. “How long do I have here?”
Telantes cocked his head again. “Three days. No more. Yisu is guiding you to the daemons, Ga’briyel. With them loose in the world, horrible things will happen to the people of Duniya. Yisu says there are three in Mahasa by the Samudra Sea.”
“Mahasa? I have never heard of it.”
“It is a large port city, almost as large as Torkeln, but with many more people. People come from Esiya, Myana, Abas, and other countries around the world all the time. Many are merchants selling their wares, but others come just to visit.”
Ga’briyel swung up into the saddle. “I must get a map of Mahadesa from Ma’ikel while I am in Torkeln. It would be nice to know where I am going.”
Telantes nodded. “Another thing, my friend. Yisu does not want you to be alone anymore. You must take someone with you to Mahasa. Dinton, Tero, the boys, someone. It is not good for you to be alone so much.”
“Sophyra and my son? Do I dare take them with me, Telantes? They are all I need, and I do need them, spirit. More than you could possibly imagine.”
“Perhaps, Ga’briyel. Adama will let you know if Yisu approves tonight as you dream. You will obey His wishes, will you not, Sainika?”
“Of course I will, but if Yisu says no, I will not be happy. I want my family with me, Telantes.” Ga’briyel quickly heeled the stallion into a gallop and returned to Basanta. He had not been out very long, but he already knew he was going to buy this horse. He clattered into the courtyard, and Captain Yamasa reached up to take the stallion’s bridle as Ga’briyel stopped. “This is the one, Captain,” the Anmah said as he dismounted. “How much?”
“For Klyar? Four golds.” Jana said with a grin.
Ga’bryel chuckled. “Two golds and four silvers.”
“Not a chance. I am not some country rube you can fleece, Captain. I know the value of a good horse, and this one is not worth three golds. Two golds and four silvers.”
“Come, Sainika, that is only two silvers less than three golds. Why not pay the extra two?”
“Because Klyar is not worth that much, Captain Yamasa, and you know it.”
Jana laughed. “Yes, Sainika, I do know it. Fine, two golds and four silvers, and he is yours. What about tack?”
“Not to worry, Captain Yamasa. There is already someone working on the Sainika’s tack.” Captain Syamulasa came up to them. "Hayar Kara says he will work on it day and night until it is finished. He hopes you will be pleased, Sainika."
"I am sure I will be, Jarja, but please tell him I will pay for it. No more gifts! And tell him I can only stay in Basanta three days. At that point, I must leave and head south, tack or no tack."
"I will tell him, Sainika, but do not be surprised if he refuses your coin."
Ga'briyel just shrugged as he pulled out the coins for Klyar and handed them to Jana.
"People wish to thank you, Captain Mistri," Jana said softly. "Why do you not let them?"
Saying nothing, the Anmah led Klyar back to his stall, divested him of the tack, and brushed him down slowly. This process calmed him somewhat, but he was aching to sleep. Partly to see his son again, and partly to hear what Yisu had decided regarding his family. He knew that if the answer was no, he would not be a pleasant person to be around for the next three days.