The next day when Sophyra woke up, she reached for Ga'briyel, but he was not near her. She sat up, stretched, and looked around the camp for him. He was seated in front of the fire lacing a leather thong around the edges of the scabbard he had made, and she wondered how long he had been there. She got up, and as she started breaking camp, she saw him flinch. He always seemed so strong, and that tiny movement pierced her soul. She finished packing her things in her bag and then pulled out two portions of food for their first meal.
When she walked to him and put the food down in front of him, he did not acknowledge her. He just finished the scabbard and tied off the thong before standing up and sliding the belts around his waist through it. After he strapped it to himself again, he slid his sword inside.
"Good enough," he mumbled. He reached down, picked up the food, and then moved to the edge of camp, and ate while staring out into the rocks. He did not even move when Rewis came up behind him with a pair of boots in his hand.
"For you, Captain Mistri," Rewis said softly, holding them out. "Vastar and Pavak returned during third watch."
"I know," Ga'briyel said, his voice cold. "I was awake." He took the boots, and pulled them on without even a thank you. "It is time to go, Rewis. Get everyone ready."
"Yes, Anmah," the man said. Ga'briyel could feel his surprise and confusion, and he knew it was because of his behavior, but Rewis only turned and went back to camp.
Ga'briyel had cried for quite a while the night before, and he knew the men at watch were trying to ignore him. After he stopped, though, he made a decision. No matter how much he hurt inside, he would never cry again. He would harden himself against any pain, whether it was physical or mental, and that was what he was trying to do now. He was trying to distance himself from feeling anything at all. He knew it was not right, but he did not know of any other way to banish the memories of the Dirack's fire, so he hoped he could force himself to believe that it did not really bother him.
Her arms came around him, and he closed his eyes tightly as he tried to keep his feelings for her under control. If he allowed her worry and love to breach the walls he had built in the hours before first light, he knew he would collapse.
"Did you sleep at all last night, my love?"
He pulled her arms from him and took a step away from her, ignoring her hurt when he did so. "Because I did not want to." When she moved in front of him, he glared at her.
"Talk to me, Ga'briyel. Please?"
"About what? What do you want to know, Sophyra? Do you truly want to know what it feels like to burn? Do you want to hear about when your eyes explode from the heat? Is that what you want me to talk about? Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I do not want to talk about it!" He clenched his teeth and walked around her. "I cannot talk about it!" He continued east, and after a few moments, the others followed him.
He stayed in front of them all, trying his best to ignore the fact that he had wounded Sophyra with his words, but he felt her tears cover him like a flood. He also felt anger from Dinton and Tero and confusion from the boys. From the men of Mirstone, he only felt concern. He kept his mind shut to all of them, and he doggedly kept walking east.
They were close to the ruins by midday. Ga'briyel could feel the evil pouring into and over him, and he knew that he would be tested soon. He only hoped he was up to the challenge. He could feel the slimy sensation of Daitya, the itch and prickling of Azazil, and every other indication of evil he had felt up to that point plus some he had not encountered yet. He knew that the ruins were where Sayatan had gathered his minions, and he also knew he had to keep the others out. Somehow, he had to keep them out.
When they stopped for midmeal, he stood silently, staring east as the others ate just as silently. Then he spoke quietly. "You will all stay here. I will enter the ruins alone."
"Not a chance, Ga'briyel," Dinton said instantly. "We are coming with you."
"No you are not, Captain. None of you will follow me."
"Ga'briyel," Tero said, "we cannot let you go in there alone. You need us."
The Anmah spun toward his friends. "No, I do not! If you go with me, you will die, Tero! Anyone who goes with me will die! You do not know what is waiting for me, but I do! I can feel it, Captain! Can you? Do you know that it is calling for me? The evil in those ruins is calling for me to come to it! Not you, me! Just me! It is telling me that it will kill me, Captain, and I am doing my best not to believe it!" Ga'briyel looked at Sophyra, and although she had stopped crying, her eyes were red and puffy. "I cannot be responsible for your deaths! I will go alone!"
Rewis stepped forward. "The men of Mirstone have fought this evil for generations, Anmah. We would like to help you."
"What have you fought, Rewis? Tell me. Have you ever fought a Dirack or a Takosa or a Daitya or an Azazil? Have you seen what they can do? Have you felt a Daitya's poison flow through your body or felt a Dirack's fire melt your flesh from your bones or felt the pain that an Azazil can inflict as it tries to rip your soul from your body? Have you?!"
"No, Anmah," Rewis said softly, his eyes wide.
"Well, I have, and I will not let that happen to any of you! You will all stay here, or I swear to Yisu I will knock you all out and tie you up to make you stay!" Ga'briyel stared at Dinton and Tero, his eyes blazing. "Do you all understand me?!"
His friends just nodded, and Sophrya slid to the ground and buried her face in her knees. Ga'briyel turned his glare on Rewis.
"I understand, Anmah. Be careful."
"I am always careful, Rewis, but it does not seem to matter. Even when I am careful, I still die. I can only hope that there are no surprises waiting for me in those ruins. Some way that I have not died yet." Ga'briyel adjusted his sword and then picked up his bow and quiver along with three daggers from his bag. "I will be back as soon as I can. Do not come looking for me. If I am not back within two days, go back to Mirstone and send word to Ma'ikel that I failed. Then get as ready as you can for the evil that will overwhelm the world."
Rewis nodded and held out his hand. Ga'briyel stared at it for a moment and then clasped the other man's forearm. "Yisu be with you, Captain Ga'briyel Mistri el'Adama," Rewis said softly. "May He bring you back safely."
Ga'briyel pressed his lips together tightly and nodded. "Thank you, Rewis. For everything." Then he looked at Sophyra. "Keep her safe, please."
"I will do my best."
With another nod, Ga'briyel dropped the man's arm and turned to leave.
He stopped at Sophyra's cry and slowly turned around. She was standing in front of everyone else, and the agony on her face and the mix of fear and love and worry hit him like a mahisa bull. He sighed deeply and took one step toward her. That was all she needed, and she rushed to him. He opened his arms to her and held her tightly to his chest.
"I love you, Sophyra," he whispered. "More than my life. More than anything. Always remember that, please. No matter what happens."
"Come back to me, my love," she gasped as her hands fisted in his shirt underneath his cloak. "Please do not leave me alone."
"I will come back. I promise." He tipped her head up and wiped away her tears before kissing her, but he still tasted the salt of the ones that continued to fall. "Pray for me, my heart. Pray for Yisu to give me what I need to stop this evil."
"I will, Ga'briyel," she answered, and he kissed her once again before turning and walking toward the evil he knew was waiting for him and only him.
As soon as he got out of view of the camp, he drew his sword and wished he could use it against the voice in his mind. It had started about an hour before they stopped for midmeal, and he tried to ignore it, but it was persistant.
Ga'briyel Mistri, come to me. Come and die, Sainika, for I can kill you. I know how to kill a Sainika and send his soul to Hell. Nikale and Manali did not know about me, Ga'briyel Mistri. Come to me and die.
That was pretty much all the voice said, although it varied the words it used. It was as if the evil behind it was determined to break down his mental defenses in order to conquer him physically, but the walls that he had erected to keep out the others in his party worked against the voice as well. Then, as he got to the walls of the ruins, and the sensations of evil were almost crushing him, he heard another voice, a calming, gentle voice, and Ga'briyel dropped to his knees and bowed his head.
My son, stay strong. I am with you. I will send you what help I can, but this is still your fight. Remember the phrase that will banish the Azazil. It will work again. I have one last gift to give you, my son. Hold out your sword in front of you.
When Ga'briyel did as Yisu said, the voice continued.
Watch it, my son.
The sword began to softly glow with a white light, and Ga'briyel stared at it wide-eyed.
I have blessed your sword, my son. It will now kill Sayatan's minions with a single scratch. Even Dirack and Takosa. It will also shield you against the Dirack's fire. Hold it in front of you, and it will absorb the flames. They will not touch you again, my son.
"Thank you, Yisu," Ga'briyel said, tears filling his eyes. He blinked them away and stood. He felt better than he had since leaving Mirstone, and he squared his shoulders. He had only taken a few steps when another voice stopped him, but this one was not in his mind.
"You are not alone, my young Sainika."
Ga'briyel smiled and looked to his left. "Telantes. You are the help Yisu promised?"
"Not only me, my friend. Look around you."
Doing so, Ga'briyel saw dozens more men in white surrounding him. He turned in a slow circle and stared. There had to be fifty or more Debaduta looking at him silently. Then he looked at Telantes.
"Thank you, my friend. I did not want to come here alone, but I could not let the others die."
"I understand, Ga'briyel," Telantes said, laying his hand on the Anmah's shoulder. "We will help as much as we can, but you must understand that Sayatan's creatures can banish us just as easily as we can banish them. If that happens, we cannot come back for a very long time. Perhaps a year or more."
"Well, let us hope that does not happen, then." Ga'briyel looked around at the Debaduta again. "Thank you all for doing this for me."
Telantes chuckled. "We had no choice, boy. Yisu commanded us to come, and we came. It is as simple as that, although I would like to say that I would have come even had He not commanded it."
"I appreciate that."
"You are in command here, Ga'briyel," Telantes said. "We will follow you to the gates of Hell if need be. But we must hurry. We must stop Sayatan before last light tomorrow, and these ruins are vast."
Ga'briyel just nodded and stepped past the wall into the ruins. He knew where the mass of evil was waiting for him, and he turned north along the wall. His army of Debaduta followed him silently. He walked for more than an hour, and there was no end to the wall. He had expected it to be more in ruins, but it was astonishingly in good condition.
"That would be Sayatan," Telantes said quietly from beside him. "He restored the wall to its former condition."
"Why would he do that?"
The Debaduta chuckled darkly. "I have no idea. Thank Yisu I cannot read his thoughts as I can yours. You know where you are going, Anmah?"
"I do. I can feel the evil pulling at me, calling to me. It wants me to find it so it can kill me."
"And how is it going to do that?"
"I do not know. It just tells me it knows how and that it will send my soul to Hell."
"You know that will not happen, correct?"
"I know, but the voice will not stop telling me it is true. I want to find whatever it is and silence its tongue forever. Perhaps by ripping it from its head."
Telantes frowned deeply. "Do not lose yourself in this place, Ga'briyel Mistri. You may never find your way back if you allow that to happen."
"I will not. Do not worry about that. I just want to stop the evil that is going to be released at last light tomorrow, and I will do whatever is necessary to do so."
"As will we, my friend," Telantes said softly, and then Ga'briyel stopped and closed his eyes briefly before heading east into the ruins. They passed hundreds of buildings, most of them more than four stories tall. Some looked to be twenty or thirty stories high, and Ga'briyel wondered who had built such things. All of them had glassless windows that looked like empty eye sockets and gaping doorways with no doors, and most had walls that had collapsed in several places. Ga'briyel did not even glance toward them as he walked. He just strode down the wide street, carefully stepping around fallen stones and bricks and skirting deep holes that appeared at random in front of him. His eyes were blazing brightly, and he held his sword ready.
More than two hours passed, and then darkness fell rapidly. Part of the reason was that darkness always came quickly in the mountains, but another part was the tall walls and buildings surrounding them. Very little light reached into the ruins, and soon, he could only see because of the light of his eyes. He had no worries that he would attract the evil in that place, for it already knew he was there. He had felt its glee and excitement the instant he stepped past the wall. Now it was just waiting for him to appear.
"Do we need to stop for you to rest, Ga'briyel?" Those were the first words spoken by anyone in over three hours, and Telantes sounded worried.
"No. I am fine."
"You did not sleep last night." It was not a question.
"No, I did not. I did not want to."
"Afraid of nightmares, Ga'briyel?"
"Yes." Ga'briyel saw no reason to lie. "I did not want to dream about my last death, and I know I would have."
"How long can you stay awake?"
"At least four nights. Maybe longer. It has only been two. Tonight will make three." Ga'briyel glanced at the Debaduta. "I am fine, Telantes."
"If you say so, my friend." Telantes did not sound convinced, but Ga'briyel did not care.
After another half hour, he turned north again, and they continued down the streets of Hela Era Larai. Ga'briyel thought it should have felt malevolent or unpleasant to walk through these vacant streets, but it was peaceful. As soon as he had that thought, the voice in his head changed.
It could be so peaceful, Ga'briyel Mistri. You could have peace if you would just let me kill you. Peace forever with no more pain and no more heartache and no more killing. Death will free you from all of that. Come to me, Sainika. Come to me and let me give you peace.
Ga'briyel just gritted his teeth and picked up his pace.
They walked through the night along empty streets past empty buildings, turning east and north and east and north again. Finally, Ga'briyel stopped just as first light came. They had reached a wide square with a fountain in the center. The fountain had a carved boy holding a pitcher in his hands, tipped as if to pour out the water, but there was no water. There was nothing in these ruins but Ga'briyel, an army of Debaduta, and Yisu only knew how many evil creatures.
As Ga'briyel stood at the edge of the square, the urge to fall to his knees and vomit almost overwhelmed him, but he stayed on his feet and swallowed it down. Just then, a Takosa rose from the middle of the fountain and floated down in front of it.
"You came, Ga'briyel Mistri," it said, and Ga'briyel recognized the voice as the one in his head. "I truly did not think you would." Then the creature grinned. "And you brought friends. How delightful! I haven't banished a Debaduta in centuries. It will be a pleasure to do so now, but first, I will kill you. Sayatan will be so pleased to know that his enemy is dead. He will reward me greatly when I bring him your head."
"You can try, Takosa, but you will not succeed."
The creatures blood-red eyes went wide. "You know what I am? How?"
"I met one of you the night before last. He was killed when the Dirack he was serving squeezed him to death."
"What was his name?"
"Who? The Dirack or the Takosa?"
"Jure. I heard a Luten call him this."
The Takosa's eyes darkened, and it growled.
"Someone you knew, Takosa?"
"Jure was one of my offspring, Sainika! Which Dirack killed him? I will rip out his heart!"
"Ajingara, but you are too late. I killed it."
"Impossible. No human can kill a Dirack. Not even you, Sainika."
"And yet I did. Ajingara is lying in that cavern as dead as the rest of his followers. As dead as you will be soon." Ga'briyel raised his sword and grinned when it glowed with a pale white light.
The Takosa laughed. "A blessed sword? It is rare to see such a thing, but it will not help you, Ga'briyel Mistri. Not here. Not enough, anyway. I, Kolakas, will still kill you. I will send your soul to Sayatan for eternal torment at his hands. And believe me, Sainika, he will torment you for opposing him, and I will watch as you scream. I will watch as he strips your skin from your bones and waits for it to grow back before he does it again." Kolakas licked his bloodless lips. "I have never tasted the blood of a Sainika before. I wonder if it will be different from that of an ordinary human." The Takosa grinned. "I wonder if it will be different from that of your father and mother in Torkeln."
"What?" Ga'briyel froze as his brain tried to wrap itself around Kolakas' words.
"Do not listen to it, Ga'briyel," Telantes said softly. "It is lying to you. Your family is safe in Torkeln."
"How do you know that, Telantes?"
"Yisu has told me it is so. Listen to nothing evil tells you. It cannot tell the truth. All it says is lies."
"That is not true, Debaduta," Kolakas said with a frown. "We can tell the truth when it benefits us to do so, but I will admit that I did lie about your family, Ga'briyel Mistri. For now, they are safe inside their palace, but they will not stay that way. When the Dirack take to the sky, Torkeln will be one of the first places they go, and they will fire the city and everyone in it. Your family will die, and your friend Ma'ikel will suffer even though he has already died from fire. You know this is the truth, Sainika, do you not?"
The memories of his last death hammered into Ga'briyel's brain, and he tried to force them out, but they stayed, tormenting him almost as much as if it were happening all over again.
"You feel the fire even now, Sainika. I can see it on your face." Kolakas grinned. "No matter. You will now die, and your..." The Tokasa waved his hand dismissively toward the Debaduta. "...friends will be banished for years." He then said, "It is time!" Swarms of Sayatan's minions flowed out from every building surrounding the square. Luten and Daitya and Azazil and Sisuvu and Dirack and Takosa and others Ga'briyel did not recognize, in numbers too large to contemplate, overran the square, and the fight began.
Ga'briyel could hear fifty Debaduta begin to recite the phrase Telantes had taught him at Grama even as he heard the sound of fifty swords pulled from their scabbards.
“Yisu, kanba vol si e en sakorota. Veya Azazil lo tainon nun lenfi.”
Shrieks went up around the square, and men dropped to the ground holding their heads. Ga'briyel knew the instant the last Azazil was banished, for the itching in his brain ceased. Like Padmal, however, the men recovered quickly and came on.
"Remember, Anmah, we cannot take human life," Telantes said over the din the horde was making. "The men are yours to deal with."
Ga'briyel just ignored him as the first wave of evil creatures hit him. His sword sliced through the air, and, as Yisu had promised, one scratch from it caused the creatures to fall to the ground screaming until they did not move. It did not work with the men, however, and at one point, Ga'briyel was surrounded by twenty of them. He vaguely heard fighting going on around him, but he focused on these men. He had no idea if they had been warriors before being taken over by the Azazil, but he had to assume they were. They certainly seemed like it the way they held their swords. As one, as if there had been some kind of silent signal, they rushed him, and he tried his best to block their swings, but several broke through his defenses before he managed to kill the last of them, and he was bleeding heavily from three slashes to his legs, two to his ribs, four to his arms, and one to his back. He wanted to fall to the ground and wait to heal, but at that moment, a Dirack landed on the ground in front of him.
This Dirack was red, and it simply stared at him. It was smaller than Ajingara had been, and the thought flew through Ga'briyel's head that this one was female. Then he heard a thud behind him, and when he turned, he saw a black Dirack had landed. He moved so that they were both in front of him, but that put him with his back against the wall of one of the buildings. He did not like being pinned like that, but he needed to be able to use his sword for both of their flames.
"You have felt our fire before, Sainika," the red one said with a hiss. "You will feel it again."
"As penalty for killing Ajingara," the black one added with what could have passed for a grin, "we will make sure you suffer greatly. You may have already died from our fire, but it will still give you agony."
At that, both Diracks opened their maws and let loose with their flames. Ga'briyel simply held up his sword in front of him with one hand and drew two daggers with his other. As Yisu had promised, the sword absorbed the flames, and instead of glowing white, it turned a bright red. As the fire died down, he kept the sword up and raised his other hand.
"Impossible!" the black Dirack said, and both creatures opened their mouths to try again, but Ga'briyel whipped his hand forward and threw one dagger into each of their mouths. He could only hope they hit their targets, and when the Diracks roared and fell to the ground, he knew they had.
"Thank you, Yisu," he said quietly.
"Use the sword, Ga'briyel," he heard Telantes say. "Use it while it still bears the fire."
Gritting his teeth against the pain of his wounds, the Anmah jumped into the mass of bodies that had not seemed to diminish despite the hundreds of bodies lying in the square. He swung it precisely, making contact with a creature with every pass. When he did, that creature burst into flames with a nightmarish shriek. Little by little, the red coloring disappeared until the sword was back to it's white glow, but by then, charred bodies lay all around Ga'briyel, some small ones that could have been Luten or Idajo and some large enough to be Takosa. He had even managed to kill two more Dirack.
And yet, it was not enough. No matter how many creatures Ga'briyel killed, more kept coming. At one point, he was fighting back to back with Telantes, the evil creatures pressing in around them. Then Telantes grunted and fell to his knees.
"Telantes? What is happening?" Ga'briyel said as he parried yet another blade.
"I am sorry, Ga'briyel. I have failed you. Stay strong, my young Anmah. Stay strong."
Ga'briyel almost fell backward as Telantes abruptly vanished, but he recovered his footing and fought on. His eyes burned with tears he refused to let form, for he knew that something had banished his friend. The Anmah was near the fountain in the middle of the square, and he jumped up onto the rim as hundreds of Sayatan's creatures surrounded him, some with swords or knives, but more with just their teeth and claws. He shuddered when four black Dirack landed in the corners of the square, heedless of the smaller creatures they smashed in the process. He continued to cut down the Luten and Idajo and Sisuvu and other creatures he did not have names for as they attempted to climb onto the fountain, but the Dirack just stared at him. Then everything stopped.
Ga'briyel looked around him, but every creature in the square looked as if they were waiting for something. The smaller creatures were grinning and poking each other, but the larger ones, the Daitya and Diracks simply waited. Then Ga'briyel felt something land on the fountain behind him, and before he could turn, strong arms came around him, pinning his sword arm so that he could not move it.
"I said I would kill you, Sainika," Kolakas said in his ear, and Ga'briyel struggled to free himself. The Takosa was too strong, however, and the next thing Ga'briyel knew, the creature had sunk its teeth into his neck. He felt his blood leave his body, and at one point, Kolakas released him long enough to sigh. "It is better than I could have imagined, Sainika. Such power! It tastes like the sweetest wine." Again, teeth buried themselves in his neck, and Ga'briyel knew the moment the last drop of his blood was drained and his heart stopped.