The next morning, Ga'briyel watched as the sun rose to his left over the mountains. He shifted his sword into position at his hip, glanced at Debhida, and turned west. He knew that Dinton and the others would have left their camp days before, but he hoped to catch them at Mirstone before they set off for home. He did not know exactly where he was in relation to the town, but he decided to walk west and hopefully feel when he got close.
"Where are we going, Ga'briyel?" Debhida asked as he walked beside him.
"Mirstone. I hope to meet my friends there. And my wife."
"Your wife? You're married? To a human?"
"We are human, Debhida. We are just immortal. But no, she is Anmah."
Debhida gave him an incredulous look, but Ga'briyel ignored him, and they walked in silence. They had no food, and Ga'briyel had not seen a single animal since they started toward Mirstone, so he didn't stop walking. Even after last light, he wanted to keep moving, but Debhida was starting to fall behind him, so he stopped.
"Can you keep going?" he asked, frustrated with the other man.
"Just let me rest for an hour or so, please, Ga'briyel. Then I will be fine."
"It's cold, Debhida, and we do not have much to keep us warm. If we keep moving, we will stay warmer."
"I know, but I am tired. I have not had a good night's sleep in moons. I will be okay after a little rest."
"Fine. I'm going to try to find some marcasite and wood. Maybe I can get a fire started." Ga'briyel stalked off among the boulders looking for the hard, metallic stone. He went farther than he had expected to, but he finally found a palm-sized piece, and he grinned as he picked it up. He still had the flint he had found the night before in his pocket, and as he walked back to where Debhida rested, he picked up the odd stick and twig. There was not much wood this deep in the mountains, but he found enough for a fire. When his arms were full, he made his way back to the other Anmah. Debhida was curled into himself, shivering, when Ga'briyel reached him, and he quickly started a fire. "Come closer, Debhida. Get warm. As warm as you can, anyway."
Debhida scooted closer and held his hands out toward the flames. "Thank you, Ga'briyel. I would not have known how to do this."
With a shrug, Ga'briyel also huddled close to the fire. "Have you frozen to death, Debhida?"
"Yes. It was my first death."
"How old were you?"
"Twenty-four. I was out on a hunt when a winter storm came up suddenly, and my party and I got caught in it. I was the only one out of ten men who survived."
"How long ago was that? How old are you now?"
"Three hundred forty-two." Debhida looked at Ga'briyel. "What about you? How old are you?"
"Twenty-one. I will be twenty-two in a few moons."
"Only twenty-one? You must not have died many times then. What number was it when the Dirack burned you? Two? Three?"
"Fifteen," Ga'briyel said softly, once again pulling his knees to his chest. "Kolakas made sixteen." He looked up at Debhida. "I am so tired of dying."
"Sixteen times in how many years? When did you become Anmah?"
"I died twelve times when I was six, and four times in the past few moons. I do not want to die anymore." He buried his head in his knees, but he still felt the shock and admiration flowing over him from the other Anmah. "Do not say it, Debhida. I am sick of hearing how amazing I am, how incredible it is that I am sane, how astonishing it is that I have died so many times in so short a time." His head snapped up, and he gritted his teeth. "It is not amazing, incredible, or astonishing! It is painful and tiring and frustrating, and I do not want to do it anymore! I do not want to be Sainika anymore! I do not want to be Anmah! I do not want to be Yisu's champion!" He sighed and lay down next to the fire. "I just want to rest. I want to have a family, to see my mother and father again, and to have a normal life."
"I am sorry, Ga'briyel," Debhida whispered. "I cannot imagine how you must be feeling, but I will say thank you."
Ga'briyel scoffed. "For what?"
"For being Sainika. For being Yisu's champion. For going through what you have. For saving the world from Sayatan."
"I had no choice in any of those things! Do you not understand that? I was forced into this role, and I cannot stop! No matter how much I want to, I cannot stop being what I am!" Ga'briyel got to his feet and walked to a large boulder. "I cannot have what I want, Debhida, and sometimes, I want to curse Yisu for it."
"No, Ga'briyel!" Debhida breathed. "Never say that!"
"Why not? Is Yisu so sensitive that He cannot handle the truth from me? Does He really need me to always put on a good face and lie to the people around me about how I feel? I do not think so. I think the Creator of the world can handle the truth."
"Yes, He can, Ga'briyel Mistri."
Ga'briyel whipped around, his sword in his hand at the deep voice behind him. Debhida was staring wide-eyed at the man in white. Ga'briyel slowly lowered the sword and glared at the Debaduta.
"Debaduta. I assume you are here because Telantes cannot be."
"You would be correct," the spirit said. "Yisu has a message for you."
Ga'briyel turned his back on him. "I do not want to hear His message!"
"Want it or not, Ga'briyel, you must hear it."
"No! I do not want to hear it! Why do you not take care of whatever it is? You and your uncountable brethren? Even if you are banished, you will come back eventually."
"So will you if you are killed."
Without warning, Ga'briyel slammed his fist into the boulder in front of him, breaking several bones. "No!" he said again. "I am done! Go back and tell Yisu I do not want to do this anymore!" He slid to the ground and wrapped his arms around his head. "I do not want this! Why can He not understand that?"
"Yisu does understand, Ga'briyel, as do I, but there is no other way to defeat Sayatan's evil. There is no one but you."
"I do not believe that! You can banish Azazil. You can kill Sayatan's creatures just as well as I. I have seen you do it. Your swords are just as effective as mine. You can kill the evil or banish it. I do not care, but I am finished with this!"
"We cannot, Captain Mistri, for Yisu's message deals with humans, and we are—"
"Forbidden to take human life. I know," Ga'briyel said with a heavy sigh. He flexed his broken hand and forced back the tears that threatened to fall. "What is the message?"
"A group of humans have hidden away several dozens of Dirack eggs on the edge of the Neyagin volcano. It will take five moons for them to hatch, but you must destroy them before then. The humans will not give up easily, Ga'briyel, but your friends in Mirstone can help you with them. You are not alone, Sainika. You have help."
Ga'briyel hung his head. "How many men?"
"Seventy-five more deaths on my hands."
"They are evil, Captain Mistri."
"I know that, Debaduta, but they still scream and bleed and die just like any other man. And I will be the one to kill them.”
“Not if you have your friends help you. Go back to Mirstone and let them help you.”
“No.” Ga’briyel stood straight and made the hardest decision of his life as he turned around slowly. “Are you able to stay long enough to make sure Debhida gets to Mirstone safely?”
The Debaduta tilted his head, reminding Ga’briyel of Telantes, as he listened to Yisu. Then he frowned. “I can stay, Sainika, but Yisu does not want you to do this alone.”
Ga’briyel snarled. “And at this point, I really do not care what He wants. I will not be responsible for the deaths of my friends. I will not be responsible for putting my wife through more pain than she can handle. I will do this alone!” Then he forced himself to calm and turned to Debhida. “Will you give my wife a message, please?”
“Of course, Ga’briyel, but I agree with the Debaduta. You should not go off alone.”
“The decision is made. Please tell my wife that I love her and that I am sorry I broke my promise to her. Tell her I hope she understands why I had to do this and I will come back to her as soon as I can. Tell her to go to Torkeln with Dinton and Tero. She can stay with my parents until I return.”
Debhida nodded. “I will tell her.” He held out his hand, and Ga’briyel clasped his forearm. “Good travels to you, Ga’briyel Mistri. I will pray for you.”
The younger Anmah just nodded, dropped his arm, and turned east. He had only taken a few steps when the Debaduta appeared beside him.
“Are you sure about this, Captain? It is not wise.”
“Wise or not, it is what I have to do.” He glanced at the other. “It is bad enough when I die, but if Dinton or Tero or, Yisu forbid, Sophyra dies, I will go insane. If I have to continue with this fight, I will do it alone.” He caught his breath. “I do not know any other way, Debaduta.”
“I understand, Captain, I do, but I still think you are being foolish.”
“You are probably right, but I have no choice. I must do this.”
The Debaduta walked beside him for a few paces and then said softly, “How will you survive, Sainika? I do not mean that you will die between here and there, but you will starve, and you will be thirsty, and if you try to walk through these mountains, you will freeze. You have no horse, no coin, and no supplies. How do you plan on making it to Neyagin with nothing?”
Ga’briyel stopped and glared at the spirit. “How far is the volcano from here?”
“As the raven flies? About three hundred leagues, but there are many obstacles in the way. These mountains for one, and the Anupa Marshes for another. Not to mention the Sikhara Mountains. They are even higher than the Parbatas. You need more than your sword, Captain Mistri.”
Snarling because he knew the Debaduta was right and did not want him to be, Ga’briyel said nothing as he turned west. He stalked away so quickly that Debhida had to run to catch up. The younger Anmah had no desire for conversation, so he kept up the quick pace. If Debhida could not breathe, he could not speak, and that was just fine with Ga’briyel. As they moved toward Mirstone, his fury grew, and he welcomed it. The heat of his anger overwhelmed him and kept away other, unwanted feelings. They continued west until the sky began to lighten, and then Ga’briyel stopped.
“Rest, Debhida. I will give you a quarter of an hour.”
The older Anmah dropped to the ground with a heavy sigh. Ga’briyel opened his mind to his surroundings and was only slightly disappointed when he felt nothing except the other man’s exhaustion. He had hoped they had come far enough for him to sense other people, but there was nothing. He paced impatiently, waiting for the time to pass, and when it did, he started west again without a word, and Debidha followed.
It was almost midday when Ga’briyel finally felt people, and he knew Mirstone was close. The slithering worry he felt only added to his anger, and ten minutes later, he stormed into the town, his eyes blazing. Several people gasped when they saw him, but he ignored them. He headed straight for the inn, and the worry grew until he was shrugging his shoulders in an attempt to make it go away. Debhida followed him silently. When he opened the door and the five people seated at the table by the fire saw him, the worry vanished as if it had never been, and joy flowed over him, causing him to pause with his hand on the handle.
“Ga’briyel!” Sophyra jumped up from the bench and raced to him. He caught her as she leaped into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist. “I was so worried, my love,” she said, and then she kissed him. Her love for him obliterated his anger instantly, and he held her tightly as he returned the kiss. He tasted tears again, and when he pulled back, he brushed his thumb across her cheek.
“Why the tears, my heart?” he asked softly.
“It has been a sennight, Ga’briyel. I did not know what happened to you.” Her breath hitched. “I thought I had lost you.”
“Never, Sophyra. I will always come back to you. Always.” He kissed her again. “You are my heart, and I love you.”
“I love you, too, husband,” she answered with a smile as he put her down.
Debhida had slipped in behind them and was waiting by the door with his hands clasped in front of him. Sophyra noticed him and raised her eyebrows in question.
“This is Debhida,” Ga’briyel said, motioning the Anmah forward. “He was held captive in the same place I was. We just escaped a couple of days ago.”
By this time, Dinton and Tero were on their feet. “What happened to you, Ga’briyel?” the latter asked.
“A Takosa killed me and tied me up in an underground cell. I thought it had only been for a night, but apparently, I was wrong. He must have kept me unconscious for quite a few days.”
“How?” Dinton asked.
“Takosa drink blood. Kolakas must have kept me drained so that I didn’t wake up.” Ga’briyel shrugged as he took Sophyra’s hand and walked to the table. The boys were staring at him as if they could not believe he was real, and he chuckled as he ruffled their hair. “Yes, I am really here. You can both close your mouths now.” He sat down on the bench, gestured for Debhida to join him, and pulled Sophyra down on his lap. He nuzzled her hair and sighed as he held her to himself. “I could use something to eat, Dinton,” he said softly. “I am sure Debhida could, too. We have not eaten since we escaped, and I have not eaten since I died last.”
“Right away, Ga’briyel,” Dinton said and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Are you all right, Captain Mistri?” Mathi asked hesitantly.
“I am fine. Why do you ask?”
“Something seems not quite right,” the boy answered.
Ga’briyel thought about his decision to leave them all behind, and he grimaced. “I am fine,” he repeated, hating himself for making such a decision but still feeling as if it was the right one. An uncomfortable silence fell over the table, but Ga’briyel just tightened his arms around his wife and lost himself in his thoughts. Suddenly, a picture flashed through his mind. It was blurry and indistinct, but he got the distinct impression that it was somehow connected to Sophyra.
“What are you thinking of, my heart?” he asked quietly.
“Nothing,” she answered. “I am just glad you are back. Why?”
“Because I thought I saw something from you, but it was unclear.”
“What kind of something?” she asked, sitting up and looking at him.
“I do not know. I could not make it out. But it definitely came from you.”
“It was not anything conscious, then.” She nestled against his chest again, and he caressed her hair. “I have no idea what it was.”
“Neither do I,” he said with a frown.
Eprila came out of the kitchen with a platter full of steaming food, and Debhida’s eyes lit up as he grinned. The girl put the food on the table and smiled at Ga’briyel. “Enjoy, Captain Mistri,” she said quietly.
“I will, Eprila. Thank you.”
She giggled as she left the main room, and Sophyra frowned as she tensed. “She likes you, Ga’briyel,” she said tightly.
“Too bad I am married,” he answered, and Sophyra relaxed as her frown turned into a smile.
“Do you want me to move?” she asked.
“No. You can stay right where you are. I can eat around you.” And he proceeded to do just that. At various times throughout the meal, he got more flashes of blurry images from Sophyra, and by the time he finished eating, he was frowning.
“What is wrong, my love?” Sophyra asked, running her hand over his forehead.
“I am still getting pictures from you, but I can’t interpret them. That has never happened before. It is disturbing not being able to know what they mean.”
She smiled at him. “You will figure it out. You always do.”
Just then, the door of the inn opened, and Manali entered, a huge smile on her wrinkled face. “Ga’briyel Mistri el’Adama. Praise Yisu you were successful!”
He looked at the old woman. “Was I?”
“So says Yisu. But He tells me you have another mission already. When will you leave?”
Ga’briyel sighed heavily and looked at his friends. They were all staring at him, and he felt their curiosity and concern envelop him. “I do not know. I need at least a couple of days to rest. We will probably leave the day after tomorrow.”
Manali nodded. “The sooner the better, Captain. The closer the Dirack get to maturity, the harder they will be to destroy.”
“What is she talking about, Ga’briyel?” Dinton asked.
Shaking his head, Ga’briyel set Sophyra on the floor. “I will tell you tomorrow. Right now, I have to sleep.” Then he looked at Manali. “You knew Sophyra was Anmah without seeing her. How did you know?”
The woman shrugged. “The same way you know things. Why?”
“Because there is something wrong. I keep getting images from her, but they are blurry and unformed. Can you see if you know why?”
“Of course, Sainika.” Manali walked to Sophyra and gestured for her to bend down. When she did, the old woman placed her hands on Sophyra’s head and closed her eyes. It did not take long before a wide grin slowly spread over the old woman’s face. Then she stood straight, opened her eyes, and dropped her hands. “It is good news, Ga’briyel. They are not Sophyra’s thoughts you are seeing.”
“Not hers? But I know they are coming from her.”
“No, they are coming from the child within her. That is why they are indistinct. The child has no frame of reference to form coherent thoughts yet.”
Sophyra’s head turned to her husband slowly. He was staring at her in shock.
“A child?” he whispered. “I am going to be a father?”
Walking to him, Sophyra took his hands. “Are you happy about this, Ga’briyel?”
He squeezed her hands tightly, and he pulled her to himself before kissing her softly. “I am, my heart.” Then he looked at Manali. “What happens when two Anmah have a child? Is the child automatically Anmah?”
“I do not know, Captain. As far as I know, it—“
“Has never happened before. No Anmah has had a child before?”
“Not with another Anmah, although I will have to contact Ma’ikel to be sure.” Manali looked at Sophyra. “You realize this means she cannot come with you to Neyagin.”
“Of course not! We will stop at Torkeln on our way, and she will stay with my parents.”
“No, Ga’briyel!” Sophyra said wide-eyed. “I will not leave you!”
“You must, my heart. You cannot travel where we are going when you are with child. It will be bad enough getting you back to Torkeln.” He kissed her. “Do not worry. I will be back with you as soon as possible. I promise.” Dropping one hand to her belly, he gently caressed it. “I will not risk your life or the life of our child.”
“I can help you with your journey, Captain Mistri,” Manali said as she reached underneath her cloak. She pulled out a scroll and handed it to him. “This is a map that shows the way to Neyagin. The Dirack eggs must be destroyed within the next five moons, and it will take you three to reach the volcano. Perhaps four. You must leave soon if you are to keep this evil from being born.”
“I know, Manali, but I also need to rest. At least tonight and quite possibly all day tomorrow. As I said, we will leave the day after that.”The old woman just nodded and left the inn. Ga’briyel and Sophyra were almost immediately surrounded by their friends who congratulated them on their good news.