Riding through the night and into the next day, Ga’briyel finally came to Sarat. The road to Torkeln ran straight through the center of the village, and there were homes lined on either side of it. Klyar was dragging a bit, but the stallion had lived up to the Anmah’s expectations and had traveled the entire distance without any major problems. True, the horse had tried to stop a few times, but Ga’briyel had pressed on, and now, he could see the village’s inn in front of him--two stories high and built with gacha wood. As he got closer, the sign swinging over the door declared the name to be The Greedy Captain. A picture of a man in uniform stuffing a bag of coins into his tunic while looking over his shoulder furtively was artfully painted under the name. Outside on a small bench sat two men, and they looked up when they heard Klyar’s hoofs clomping down the dirt road. Ga’briyel stopped in front of them, dismounted, and kept his hand away from his sword no matter how much it wanted to drift there.
The men wore shabby coats and even shabbier boots, but they were both clean, and Ga’briyel studied them for a while before asking, “Does this inn have a stable?”
“Of course, sir,” one said, standing. He was at least two hands shorter than Ga’briyel, but he must have weighed twice as much as the Anmah. He was almost as wide as he was tall. His long brown hair was pulled back into a plait that was held tight by a black leather thong. “Shall I take your horse for you, sir?”
“No, thank you,” Ga’briyel said. “I will take him myself. Where is the stable?”
“I will show you, sir,” the man said, and Ga’briyel did not miss the glance he gave the other who was still seated on the bench. The second man was as skinny as the first was fat, and based on the long legs stretched out in front of him, Ga’briyel assumed he was rather tall. Perhaps taller than himself even. The Anmah knew what that look meant, and he vowed to keep at least two blades on his person at all times while at the inn. The first man led Ga’briyel around the back of the inn to the stable, and with a nod of thanks, Ga’briyel began to divest the stallion of the tack. As he set the saddle on the wall of the stall, he could feel the man’s greed flow over him like a sickly smell. He brushed Klyar down, fed him some oats and hay, and then turned to the man who had been watching him the whole time silently. He swung his saddlebags over his left shoulder and walked toward the man.
“Listen to me,” Ga’briyel said softly, his hand laid on the hilt of his sword and his eyes glowing. “If there is a single scratch on my tack when I leave here tomorrow, I will come looking for you, and you will not be pleased at what I will do to you.” His hand left his sword as the fat little man’s eyes widened in fear. “On the other hand, if my horse and tack are just as I have left them, there might be some coin in it for you.”
The man had backed up until his back hit the stable wall, and then he stood there trembling violently. “What are you?” he whispered.
“Your worst nightmare if you cross me,” Ga’briyel said dismissively as he passed the man, “and someone who will pay handsomely for his things to be unmolested.” He walked around to the front of the inn and frowned when he saw the second man still sprawled on the bench. “You should talk to your friend,” he said as he stared at the man. “Ask him what I just told him.” Then he strode past the man and entered the inn.
It was almost midday, and some wonderful scents hit Ga’briyel as the door shut behind him. Behind the bar stood a lady, for she could not be named anything else. She was slender and beautiful, and Ga’briyel’s eyes flared once when he saw her. She had bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and the look of someone he did not want to upset.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she said with a smile almost as bright as her eyes. “May I offer you something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Ga’briyel said, “but I would like a room. I have been traveling a long time. A bath and a meal would not be frowned upon, either.”
“Of course, sir. I will show you to a room.” She walked toward the staircase, and Ga’briyel followed. “There is a bathing room down the hall,” she said over her shoulder. “I will bring you some hot water immediately.”
“Thank you very much,” Ga’briyel said as she walked down the hallway and stopped in front of a door. He looked at her for a moment and then said, “I also have a horse in your stable. Please keep that in mind when you tell me what I owe you tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Ga’briyel opened the door and then asked, “What is your name, if you do not mind me asking?”
“Mari, sir. May I ask yours?”
“Ga’briyel. This room will be just fine, Mari. Could you please bring that water up now?”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
Ga’briyel watched her walk down the hallway and disappear down the stairs. Then he went into his room, shut the door, dropped his saddlebags next to the small bed that was covered by a single blue woolen blanket, and opened the window. He breathed deeply of the fresh air and reluctantly unbuckled his sword belt. He laid it on the bed but pulled two daggers from it and placed them in his sleeves. He was not about to go unarmed in this village. Not after his encounter with the two men outside. There was also the problem of Mari. He could feel the heat coming from her, and she was beautiful enough that she was probably used to men falling for her, but Ga’briyel was not interested in her. He just wanted to get home to his wife and son as quickly as possible. He would spend the day and night here in Sarat, but he would leave at first light.
A knock at the door, accompanied by Mari’s voice telling him she had the water, had Ga’briyel scrounging in his saddlebags for clean clothing. He pulled out a dark red coat, white linen shirt, and black breeches. He opened the door and flinched when a wave of heat hit him so powerfully he was surprised that Mari was not hanging all over him. He ignored her except to follow her to the bathing room. Once inside, she emptied the boiling water into the copper tub, turned toward him, and asked if he needed anything else.
“No, thank you, Mari. I can take care of myself.”
“If you are sure, Ga’briyel,” she muttered with a frown, and then she left the room, shutting it firmly behind her. He frowned at the door and then dragged a slat-backed chair to it and wedged it firmly underneath the handle. He had no desire to be interrupted in his bath by Mari deciding he needed help after all.
He stripped off his clothing and settled into the tub with a long, contented sigh. He cleaned himself thoroughly and quickly and then dressed even faster. He was not completely confident that chair would hold if someone tried to enter the room. When he left, Mari was standing outside his room, and he frowned at her.
“Do you need something, Mari?”
She smiled at him, and her eyes twinkled. “I was just wondering if you wanted some company--for the midday meal.”
“Again, thank you, but no. I just want to eat and get some sleep. I have been riding since the day before yesterday, and I am tired.”
She stepped up to him and ran her hand down his arm. “Would you like some company after you eat, Ga’briyel?” The heat coming from her was most unwelcome, and he stepped back.
“I am on my way home to my wife and son, Mari. I have no need of your company now or later.”
Her brows came together, but then she smiled again. “Your wife need not know, Ga’briyel. Let me keep you company.”
Ga’briyel reached out a hand and pushed her aside as he opened the door to his room. “Do not make this mistake, Mari. You would not like me when I get angry.” He shut the door in her face, but he could feel when the heat of her passion turned into an angered fire, and he could hear her footsteps stomping down the stairs. He sighed heavily and thought about strapping on his sword, but he kept it where it was on the bed and tucked the two daggers back into the sleeves of his coat. Then he exited his room and went down to the main room of the inn and took a seat at one of the tables.
Mari came out a few minutes later with a covered plate and a mug, a deep frown on her face, and her fury was almost enough to make Ga’briyel uncomfortable. He ignored the heat, however, thanked her for the food and ale, and began to eat. Mari moved behind the bar and started cleaning it with incensed swipes of her cloth, glaring daggers at Ga’briyel the entire time. He tried to ignore her, but as her fury grew, so did the heat directed at him, and finally, he put down his fork and stood up. He walked to the bar and leaned on his forearms.
“Listen to me, Mari,” he said disdainfully. “You may have every man in this flea-bitten village wrapped around your finger, but I am not one of them. You may as well stop being angry with me because I am never going to accept your company. I love my wife, and I would never do anything with another woman. Never! So either leave this room or curb your fury, or I will leave now and pay you nothing. I will consider the food and the stable as payment for putting up with your temper.” Ga’briyel stood up straight and was pleased when Mari turned on her heel and stormed out of the inn, slamming the front door behind her as she left. Ga’briyel sat back down and continued eating.
About five minutes passed before the door swung open and five large men marched into the room with Mari right behind them. The men surrounded Ga’briyel’s table, and he could feel their rage inundate him. He calmly finished his meal and looked up at them.
“You dare insult our sister, stranger?” one of them snarled.
“Insult, no,” Ga’briyel answered as he stood. “Unless refusing to take her to my bed is an insult. If that is the case, then yes, I did insult her.” The man who had spoken reached out a hand as if to grab the Anmah, but Ga’briyel easily blocked it away, and then it was his turn to snarl. “I really would not do that if I were you, stranger.”
The man laughed. “There are five of us and only one of you. You should not threaten us if you know what is good for you.”
“Oh, that was not a threat,” Ga’briyel said, his eyes flaring. He stepped away from the table as the brothers glanced at each other nervously. “That was a warning. I truly do not wish to harm any of you, and if you turn around now and leave, I will not have to. But if you insist on avenging your sister, I will leave you unconscious on the floor of this inn. And that is a promise.”
“We will not fight in the inn,” the man said, “but we will leave you unconscious out on the road. When you wake up, you will leave this village and never come back.” The man reached out his hand again to take hold of Ga’briyel, but again, the Anmah blocked it.
“Do not touch me, horeson,” he growled. “I will fight you if you wish, but do not say I did not warn you.” He flipped his daggers into his hands and drove them deep into the table. “No weapons. I would kill you all if we fought with weapons.” The man laughed and gestured toward the door. “After you,” Ga’briyel said, and the five men chuckled as they exited the inn. Mari followed them as she glowered at the Anmah over her shoulder. When Ga’briyel reached the road, there were several villagers lining it, among them the two men who had been in front of the inn. The five brothers were in a half-circle facing Ga’briyel, their hands up and fisted, but the Anmah just grinned at them, his eyes bright as they stared at him. “One at a time, or all five of you at once?” he asked conversationally as he raised his own hands but kept them open.
In answer, all five brothers rushed Ga’briyel, and he sidestepped the first, bringing his hands down on the man’s outstretched right arm and snapping the elbow. The brother dropped to the ground with a shriek, but Ga’briyel stepped over him and grabbed the second brother’s foot as he attempted to kick the Anmah. He twisted it sharply and heard bones crack as the man screamed. Then Ga’briyel faced the other three who had spread out around him. He gestured to the one who had done the talking in the inn. “Come on, you son of a troll. Let me see what you can do.”
The man looked at his two brothers on the ground and then at the two who were still standing, and the three who were still mobile rushed Ga’briyel at the same time. For five minutes, they attempted to grab, kick, hit, and otherwise hurt the Anmah, but he evaded all of their strikes while landing plenty of his own. Bones broke as he landed a foot in one of the brothers’ ribs, as an elbow connected with a breastbone, and as a kick shattered a knee. When all five brothers were on the ground, groaning in pain, Ga’briyel stepped up to them and growled, “I said I would leave you unconscious, but I have no desire to do so. Know this--I am going to go back in the inn and get some sleep. If anything is amiss with my horse or my things tomorrow morning, I will beat you all senseless. Do you understand me?”
All five brothers nodded, and then Ga’briyel sensed someone behind him. He whirled around just in time to grab the stick that was aimed at his head. It was wielded by the tall partner of the fat man who had shown Ga’briyel the stable, and the Anmah easily wrenched it from the man’s hands. Then he grabbed the man by the throat and forced him against the wall of the inn. “That was foolish,” he snapped. “Do you wish to join these other fools on the ground?”
“No, stranger,” the man gasped, his air quickly being cut off by Ga’briyel’s hand. “Forgive me, please.”
“Forgive? Not a chance.” Ga’briyel let go of the man who dropped to his knees, his hands on his throat. The Anmah looked around at the people who were staring at him in terror, his own fury building rapidly. “The warning I gave these goat-brained idiots goes for the rest of you. I am a captain in the palace guard of Torkeln, and if anything happens to what is mine, I will make sure King Tomas makes an example of this fleck of a village! If I tell the king that you make it a habit of threatening and attacking strangers, he will raze this place to the ground!” With that, Ga’briyel ignored the disbelief he felt from the villagers, stalked into the inn, and grabbed his daggers from the table. He went up the stairs two at a time, slammed the door of his room open, and slammed it closed. He paced back and forth until he calmed slightly, and then he moved his sword and lay down next to it on the bed, still fully dressed, his hand resting on the hilt. He quickly fell asleep and began to dream.
Baba? Can you hear me?
I hear you, my son. Do you have need of me?
No, Baba. I was telling Mama that you would be home soon. I cannot wait to see you again, Baba.
Ga’briyel released a heavy sigh in his sleep. And I you, Adama. I wish to hold you in my arms. You and your mama. I miss you both so very much.
And we miss you, Baba.
Why is it dark, Adama? Why can I not see you?
I do not know, Baba. Ga’briyel felt a small hand slide into his, and he grasped it tightly. Is it true that Mama and I will travel with you when you leave Torkeln, Baba?
I truly hope so, Adama. I no longer wish to be alone. I need my family with me.
It is time for me to go, Baba, and you need to wake. Something bad is about to happen where you are.
How do you know this, my son?
Yisu has told me, Baba. Wake and beware of the villagers. They are not as they seem.
With that, Ga’briyel was immediately alert. He sat up in bed, his hand unconsciously drawing his sword, and stared out into the dark of the night. He listened closely to the sounds of the night, and then he heard a shuffling outside his door. He slipped out of bed, sword in hand, and moved to the door.
“You saw what he did to the others,” someone said in a harsh whisper. “I do not wish to spend the next moons in pain from the kinds of injuries he can inflict.”
“You know what Samsaya said. He must die tonight,” a second voice said. Ga’briyel could feel the fear flowing off the people on the other side of the door, and when the name of Samsaya was uttered, he knew he was about to encounter yet another of Sayatan’s sons. One who apparently knew he had been coming and was blocking his ability to sense the evil surrounding him, for he knew this village was evil to its core. He wondered what kind of evil it was, but he simply reached out a hand, yanked open his door, grabbed the two men who were standing in the hallway outside his room, and pulled them into the room. Then he pointed his sword at them as they cowered in fear.
“What are you?” Ga’briyel snarled, taking a step toward them.
The shorter of the two, meaning he was almost two hands shorter than Ga’briyel, stammered out, “Please, sir, we did not mean to disturb your sleep. Please do not hurt us.” The Anmah recognized his voice as the first of the two he had heard through the door. The other man stood straight and mumbled something Ga’briyel did not catch.
“Why should I not harm you? You were sent to harm me.”
“No, sir! If you heard us, you know that I did not wish to harm you!” the first man said, his eyes wide. “But if Samsaya finds out we did not obey, he will kill us, and it will not be a pleasant death.”
Ga’briyel stepped forward and placed the tip of his sword on the second man’s chest. “You were going to kill me, were you not?” he asked, his eyes glowing.
“Yes, sir, I was, but only because Samsaya ordered it done. As Yiramiya has said, if we do not kill you, we will die horrible deaths.”
“Not if I kill that son of Sayatan first,” Ga’briyel muttered. “If I leave you here, will you interfere with me doing so?”
“No, Sainika,” the first said, and Ga’briyel frowned.
“How did you know what I am?”
“Samsaya told all the villagers you were Sainika. I do not know exactly what that means, but he wants you dead. If we do not do it, someone else will.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Ga’briyel shoved the two men to the side and armed himself with every blade he had brought with him after strapping his sword belt around his waist. “Stay here unless you truly wish to die,” he told them as he moved to the door. “Where is Samsaya now?”
“He stays in a cottage a league east of here in the forest, Sainika,” the second man said. “Will you truly kill him?”
“I will, and I will destroy anyone who tries to stop me, the two of you included, so stay here and do not try and warn anyone.”
“Yes, Sainika,” the two men said, and they sat on his bed.
“So much for a good night’s sleep,” Ga’briyel mumbled as he left the room. Then he remembered the spell he had memorized two days earlier, and he decided to try it. He had spent the two days in the saddle reading the instruction books he had brought, and he had a general idea of how the magic worked. If he read the spells out loud, they were burned into his memory, never to be forgotten, but each time he cast a spell, he would use some of his energy, and if he relied on the magic too much, he would eventually collapse and need to rest. He just wanted to try this one spell, however, and as he stood in the main room of the inn, he said the words he had read in the stone building with Carlas. He felt nothing, and he wondered if it worked, but he had no time to worry about that, for he heard a noise outside. It sounded like several people gathering, and he moved to the front door. Opening it, he stepped out into the black night. There was no moon, and the stars were covered by thick, dark clouds. Ga’briyel’s eyes shone brightly in the darkness, and the people outside took a step back, most of them gasping in fear.
Dozens of villagers were gathered in the road, each with some sort of weapon in their hands. Ga’briyel saw a few swords, but most of the people had knives, pitchforks, staffs, or bows and arrows. They held back, and their fear washed over Ga’briyel, suffocating him. It was only when a deep voice behind them rang out that they started to move.
“Kill him, you fools! Make sure he never reforms!”
Ga’briyel prayed to Yisu that the spell he had cast would work, and he walked down the steps of the inn in the direction of the voice. The villagers started attacking him, but their strikes bounced away as they hit an invisible wall that surrounded the Anmah from head to toe. He could feel their confusion, but he was focused on the daemon.
“Samsaya! Show yourself!” he bellowed. Almost immediately, a large man stepped out of the shadows. He towered over Ga’briyel and easily outweighed him, but the Sainika was confident that his spell would protect him. He was surprised, therefore, when the daemon stepped in front of him, stretched out a thick, meaty hand, and grasped Ga’briyel’s shirt front, dragging him up onto his toes.
“A magic user, Sainika? That has not happened in ages,” the daemon snarled, and then he grinned. “Too bad daemons are immune to magic.”
Ga’briyel shrugged one shoulder. “No matter, Samsaya. You cannot kill me, but I know how to kill you. After all, two of your brothers are already dead.”
“Two? Which ones?” The daemon’s eyes widened, and Ga’briyel felt a trickle of the evil surrounding him cover him as the daemon’s concentration was impaired. Returning the grin, he answered.
“Yaksaya and Kensaya. The first I killed many moons ago, and the second only a few days ago. Along with the five Daitya who were with him. And now I will kill you.”
“My father will not be pleased that you are killing his sons, little Sainika. He will eventually come after you himself.”
“Will he? I wondered about that. Does Sayatan care enough about his sons to avenge their deaths? Does he care enough about you to avenge yours?”
“He does, Sainika. He will come for you with everything at his disposal. Dirack, Takosa, Sarpa, everything.” As the daemon spoke, he changed into the creature Ga’briyel had seen twice before. Red skin seemed to glow in the blackness, and the black horns shone violet in the light of Ga’briyel’s eyes. “Even if you manage to kill me, there are plenty more of us to kill you and scatter you across Duniya.” Then Samsaya spoke to the villagers. “No one touches him until I say! He is mine to kill.” With that it drew a sword from a scabbard on its back, but it was not the curved black blade Ga’briyel was expecting. It was a broadsword, nearly two paces long, and it glistened with a substance that seemed to suck in every speck of light until Ga’briyel was struggling to see even with his eyes glowing brightly.
“Can you fight while you are blind, Sainika?” the daemon taunted as the night grew darker. “I think not. I will kill you and make sure you never come together again.”
Ga’briyel just closed his eyes and listened. He listened to the wind as it blew softly through the village, he listened to the shuffling of the villagers’ feet in the dust of the road, he listened to the soft sounds of the forest surrounding the village, and then he heard what he was waiting for--the swish of that giant sword through the night air. He smoothly ducked as the blade passed over him right where his neck had been, and he spun toward the daemon, his right foot planted directly between the creature’s feet. He brought his sword around and sliced cleanly through Samsaya’s abdomen, and he felt the hot, putrid blood cover him once again as the daemon roared in pain and fury. Again, the broadsword was swung toward the Anmah, and again, he avoided the blow, this time by stepping even closer to the daemon and driving his sword deep into the creature’s chest. Ga’briyel listened, eyes still closed, as the broadsword clattered to the dirt behind him, and he felt as the daemon dropped to its knees. He opened his eyes, pleased to see that the unnatural darkness had disappeared, swung his sword once, and cut off Samsaya’s head.
Before he could dismember the daemon, however, he was aware of the heat of very angry people washing over him. A lot of very angry people. In addition to their anger, Ga’briyel could also feel the prickling of Azazil now that Samsaya was dead. He could not imagine that everyone in the village was an Azazil, but he could feel that several were, and he turned slowly to see that dozens of villagers were advancing on him, weapons in hand. At once, he began reciting the phrase to banish the Azazil, hoping that saying it once through would banish them all at the same time. When he said it the third time, however, only one of the villagers dropped to the ground, hands on his temples, and a scream ripped from his throat.
“Snakes and trolls!” he muttered to himself as he backed away and started chanting the phrase over and over again. He raised his sword just in case, and every third time saying the phrase, another villager dropped to the dirt with a loud yell. Unfortunately, after they recovered, they picked up their weapons and continued toward the Anmah. Ga’briyel was not at all surprised to see the two men who had greeted his entrance into the village among the people advancing on him.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of blocking strikes aimed at him without inflicting any damage on the villagers, the prickling disappeared, and Ga’briyel breathed a sigh of relief. “Stop!” he said emphatically to the villagers as he shifted his stance. “I do not wish to hurt any of you, but if you continue to attack me, I will have no choice!” The people just snarled and maintained their forward progress toward Ga’briyel. He sighed heavily and resigned himself to the fact that some of these people would die here. He set his stance and waited.
The first man rushed him, a pitchfork in his hands, but he was not trained like Ga’briyel was, and the Anmah easily blocked the clumsy strike and brought the hilt of his sword down just behind the man’s right ear as he stumbled past him. Ga’briyel hoped he could knock out the villagers as he had in Difeld, but when several of them charged him at once, he knew that would not happen. For the next several minutes, he was kept busy blocking blows and attempting to disarm the people without killing them. It was not to be, however, and by the time the last villager was subdued, over half of them lay dead in the road, two of them being the men whom Ga’briyel had met when entering the village. Mari was another that lay in the road, her sightless eyes staring at the star-filled sky. The Anmah had received several superficial wounds that had healed instantly, and he now stood in the road, looking at the wasted loss of life. He shook the blood and gore from his sword, cleaned it on the nearest dead man’s shirt, and glared at the few people who had watched the carnage, his eyes shining brightly.
“Take care of the bodies,” he growled at the nearest man who bobbed a quick bow and then turned to gather quite a few other men to do the Anmah’s bidding. The women who had watched the spectacle moved toward the villagers Ga’briyel had managed to simply render unconscious and started dragging them out of the middle of the road. Ga’briyel watched for a while, and then he sheathed his sword, spun on his heel, and entered the inn. Trudging up the stairs, he went to his room, pulled off his boots, and lay down on the bed to wait for morning.