I apologize for the tardiness of today’s update. Technically, it is still Monday. Hopefully the length of the chapter will make it up to you.
“We’re coming with you this time,” Forziel declares before my eyes are fully open.
“What?” The question comes out garbled, my throat dry from breathing the moisture-free air all night.
“Liwin and I are coming with you,” Forziel says. “Hoenna said it’s okay for Liwin, and we want to see what the next sign’s gonna be.”
I groan and roll over. He has too much energy. The sun hasn’t risen yet.
Indeed, we reach the top of the mesa as the sun dips fully over the horizon. By then, my mind is functioning well enough that I notice people peeking out of their tent’s flaps, slinking out of their houses to follow us. Crunched bugs coat the ground. Here and there, live beetles and scorpions scurry away from our feet.
Someone must have notified the rulers of our approach, because the sultan and royals arrive at the courtyard at the same time as us. Bright red spots pepper their exposed skin. One of them flinches and stomps something, presumably an insect.
“Stay behind us,” Savi whispers to Forziel and Liwin.
The sultan scratches absently at the bug bites on his neck. “Have you come to tell us what sign your divinity will wreak on us next?”
“Will you relent and release Aia’s followers?” I ask. Something prompts me to add, “Beware: This is your last chance for mercy. After this, your fate is sealed.”
“Maraiah may not go free,” he says wearily. I imagine the vermin kept him up all night.
Good. That’s what we had to deal with in the slave camps.
“Then yes. We are here to speak for Aia.”
Savi speaks up, frowning. “Wait, aren’t you going to have your magicians demonstrate?”
The sultan rolls his eyes, and one of the royals says, “Everyone knows the magicians can control creatures.”
“On such a large scale…” the pouffy-pant royal whispers dubiously to his neighbor, but the words travel.
The sultan glares at him and continues. “Let us waste no more time. There are how many signs left?”
“Four,” Savi answers.
I take a deep breath, relax, and say the words that come to my mouth. “You have been rebuked for polluting the waters with Maraiah’s dead infants. Far worse than pollution is your murder of these children. ‘So that you may know that I am greater than Rezik Father Physician: All Izyphorn children of one month or older shall become ill to the point of death.’” The change to my voice happens naturally and predictably.
As the words fade, the royals exchange glances and look at the sultan. A young royal says, “Uncle, surely you will not allow this?”
“Bah! This cannot happen. No divinity is powerful enough to bring on a plague single-handedly. It would take a horde of divinities–but their Aia is only one. I am done with this foolishness. Get your pale faces out of my sight,” he orders Savi and me and storms through the palace’s carved pillars.
With a shrug, Savi and I turn back to the boys. A small crowd huddles behind them, watching us. Are they going to give us trouble? I’m instantly more alert, and if Savi guiding us around the crowd instead of through them is any indication, he is, too. Luemikaroeth taps against my thigh, but I shy away from the idea of using it against humans, just as we avoided with the bandits. Please, Aia, don’t let them mob us.
As we skirt them, a few step toward us. My pulse quickens. I nudge Liwin so that I’m walking between him and the crowd.
“Wait,” a sturdy woman with hair piled on top of her head calls.
You are a Champion, I remind myself. How can I be afraid of these people after facing the aivenkaites?
“What do you want?” Savi asks carefully.
“We want to know about your divinity.”
I trip. “You do?”
“Yes. He is becoming troublesome to our lives, and we want to know why.”
I stifle a laugh. “Then I’ll tell you a story. It’s a very long story, though. Is there somewhere we can sit down?”
They lead us to the edge of the city, where the temporary Feast tents and stalls are. In the time we were at the palace, though, the Feasters started packing up. Half the tents are half torn down. “The Feast isn’t over yet, is it?” I check. If it is, if our period of immunity from execution is over, then we need to proceed more cautiously.
“No, we’ve still got days,” Forziel answers. “I can’t figure it out. The Feast is always celebrated for a full week.”
“No one’s in much of a Feasting mood,” one of the Izyphorns says, scratching a red welt.
We settle in a newly-cleared gap between tents, and I begin telling these Izyphorns of our true history. Some listen with rapt attention, as eager as Pitka used to be. Some listen with their eyes half-closed and their heads tilted, trying to make sense of what I’m saying with what they’ve been told their whole lives. Some outright scoff and turn away in short order.
I ignore the latter and speak on. This time, I change the words when I come to the Lake of Living Water, for the first time substituting the new translation of Aia’s promise. “‘Through your legacy I will redeem creation.’” The words raise bumps on my arms. Can these Izyphorns listening to me be part of Nhardah’s legacy? Is Aia’s plan to free Maraiah so much larger than I ever dreamed?
For a moment, it seems possible. After generations of Orrock living Rent from Aia, perhaps He is finally going to restore us. Perhaps I will live to see that day, and every person on Orrock will decide to love and follow their Maker.
Someone comes and whispers to a person sitting near the back of my audience. The listener’s face transforms from intrigue to dismay, and he follows the messenger away.
I tell of the Rending and of humans being scattered over Orrock, of the first plague and the first murder. As I speak, more and more messengers come and pull people away. I catch whispers—“your child” — “fever” — “sudden.”
Aia’s sign has set in.
As my listeners dwindle, there is new movement around the edges of the tent clearing. More Izyphorns–that is nothing unexpected. Savi grips my elbow just as I notice spear tips glinting among the newcomers.
“Rai, we need to go,” he hisses.
“Let me just finish this story,” I whisper back.
I open my mouth, and someone shouts a command. There is movement–I can’t quite track it, through the collapsing tents and people rushing to find their children.
Then guards surround us, spears leveled.
I jump to my feet. A quick glance shows we’re surrounded.
Forziel. Liwin! Maybe they were far enough away.
But no. Forziel flinches away from a spearpoint. “Hey, watch it with that thing,” he grouses.
I plant my hands on my hips and scowl at the guards. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We have the sultan and royals’ permission to go free,” Savi reminds them, voice calm but grip on my arm tight.
“We’re under orders to arrest you for inciting the populace,” a guard drones. “Take their swords.”
Savi and I jerk away from the guards who advance. I angle myself between Luemikaroeth and the Izyphorn. “No.”
“We will go with you, but we won’t give our swords up.” Savi reaches for Elgarnoseth at his side.
Confusion washes over the guards where I expect frustration. Then their leader says, “They don’t have their swords. Grab them and take them to the dungeon.”
That confuses me enough that my distraction lets the guards grab hold of me and shove me back toward the palace. Savi and I look at each other, but don’t say anything.
“Hey, let go!” Liwin grunts. He bends his knees and drops toward the ground, yanking his guard with him. The guard curses, Liwin twists, and the boy lurches to his feet already running away.
“Liwin! Hey!” Forziel shouts after him, struggling against his captor without avail. We’re dragged up the street, and the palace courtyard comes into view. “Stupid bandit,” Forziel mutters. “Should have known. Can’t trust anyone these days.”
“Hey,” Savi reprimands, “he’s safe. You should be glad.”
“We aren’t safe,” Forziel points out.
We’re jerked past the faces of the dead. “The Feast of Wheat,” I remind him. “We’re not dying yet.”
Forziel jerks his head. “Look around. Feast’s over, or may as well be.”
The guards holding Forziel shake him. “Be quiet, all of you,” their leader orders.
I glare at him.
No matter what I try–dragging my feet, yanking against the hands holding me, sticking my good ankle out to trip the guards–I can’t get free, and they keep prodding us toward the dungeons. At least I still have Luemikaroeth, and Savi has Elgarnoseth, but how? What happened back there?
Light fades, and filth increasingly discolors the halls. We’re forced through heavily-barred doors into a hall I recognize from our last time in prison, though I can’t remember which cell we were in.
Unlike before, a man dressed in Feast clothes and flanked by two bodyguards stands in the middle of the prison hall. “What are you doing here?” the leader of our guards asks.
The stranger tisks. “Is that the way you talk to nobles? I won’t be surprised to hear you’ve lost your rank and become one of your wards. Show some respect to your betters.”
Forziel snorts. All traces of levity are gone from his face. “Well, you’re hardly anyone’s better, Amkal.”
The stranger’s lips press into a thin, sarcastic smile. “Forziel. I hoped you’d be happier to see me, considering the circumstances. After all, I’m your best hope of freedom now.”
“You see, a lifetime of slavery has taught me not to trust you. Maybe you should have thought of that before you killed my mom and brother. Or was that too inconvenient for you, Father?”
Amkal’s smirk hardens. “Listen, boy—”
“Never. I will never listen to you.”
And Forziel spits at him.
Amkal’s eyes narrow to slits, and his bare shoulders tense. “Then you’ll rot in prison until your execution,” he says.
Savi moves between the two men as much as he can, disgust lining his face as he scowls at Amkal–at this noble, Forziel’s father. Savi doesn’t get the chance to say anything, because the guard leader drawls, “So we’re all in agreement. Into the cell you go.”
Light from the hall creeps into the cell when the guard leader unbolts the door. These aren’t the same cellmates as before, but hopefully they’ll still fear Aia. Maybe they’ll fear Him even more, if they’ve heard about the signs. If not, we realize we have our swords this time, but I really don’t want to use them against humans.
We’re shoved through the low doorway. “Forziel, you’ve got a lot to explain,” I warn our guide.
The door bangs shut, shutting out every hint of light. “I know,” he sighs.
My heart goes cold, but not because of the blackness. “Savi, draw Elgarnoseth,” I order. I fumble Luemikaroeth free of my belt.
A bare foot slaps the sodden cell floor. Another footstep comes from the opposite direction.
“Hae-Aia,” I breathe. “Forziel, stay behind me.” I grab his arm and shove him against the wall.
An unfamiliar voice chuckles.
Another footfall, this one from the left.
“Stay back,” I order. My arm shakes. “I am Raiballeon and this is Saviayr. We are Aia’s Champions.”
Snickers bounce around the room. “We know who you are. Do you think you two children frighten us? Poor, sad Savi. Think of your dead father.”
“Shut up,” Savi chokes.
“You’ll be joining him soon,” the voice scratches on.
I have to pray. That’s what the kaites always said. But fear drinks my words and weighs my tongue.
I squeeze my eyes shut. Pray. Come on, Raiballeon.
Aia, help us. We’re lost without You.
Another footfall. Hot breath bathes my face.
My eyes fly open. Luemikaroeth glows. A hand’s breadth away is the parchment-white face of a Larien.
An aivenkaite stares out of his eyes. “Hello, Raiballeon,” it taunts. “Or should I call you by your real name: Mailoua.”
And that's it for today. To make matters even worse, I give you fair warning that I may not have a chapter for you next week. I'm doing my best to squeeze writing in, especially since we're finally so close to the end of the book that it could potentially be finished (in this iteration) this year! But I'm still new in a job, and working extra hours this week, and life keeps happening super fast. I will try to get you a chapter next week, but I can make no promises. (But your feedback helps motivate me even more ;) *hint hint*)