Good morning everyone! Thanks for stopping by to read *checks notes* Chapter Twenty-Four of The Cursed King. It’s been a productive week and another chapter has been written, which means that I will start writing Chapter Thirty-Six tomorrow. I have a goal to always be ten chapters ahead of the blog (mainly so that I can fill gaps and to make sure I weed out any plot holes that I write for myself). This is the first book I have attempted to write, and whilst making that first venture a 300,000 word epic fantasy may not have been the smartest decision, it’s the story that I want to tell, and so it’s the story you’re getting. If I needed any inspiration for taking on such a big endeavour, then this week provided it. I have been absolutely wrapped up in the WallStreetBets Gamestop saga this week, and have found the entire situation fascinating and extremely satisfying to watch unfold.
Today, we join Leona on her journey through the Amentian desert following her escape from Aljan. With Nebu hunting her and her entourage under the unbearably hot sun, Leona and her group are desperate for refuge. Thank you once again for reading, and Chapter Twenty-Five will be posted on February 13th.
Even in Autumn, the heat of the Amentian desert was unbearable. Though it was not nearly as hot as when she had arrived in Aljan, the only time she stepped outside her carriage was in the cooler mountains as they crossed from Cesara into Amenti, and the rest of the time she sat in the shade, her skin protected from the sun’s rays by fabric curtains. Now though, Leona had only a headscarf and light linens for protection from the intensity of the sun as she rode upon her camel. Hezekiah had bought the camels in Maladh, and had arranged with Sultan Untonay through Marius Pascis for Leona’s safe passage back to Ilturbia. Leona rode on the same camel as Mavina, whilst Hezekiah rode with Jadya and the other two camels carried the four maidservants.
Ahead of all of them by about half a mile was a desert guide. The Amentian Desert was so vast and sprawling with so little oases that it would not take long for one who did not know the landscape to die and never be found. Many desert tribes made their coin by guiding. Though all within Amenti were under the rule of the Emperor, the desert and the mountain folk lived under their own law for the most part. They were too inconsequential to cause those who policed the major cities too many problems, and it largely benefitted both parties to keep apart from one another. Despite this, Leona knew that should they be caught, it would be these tribes who suffered, not just the guides themselves.
Leona had always felt protected in Ilturbia. Cesara was a safe place, and she knew how lucky she was to watch the world from the palace of the nation’s commander, but the city itself was surrounded by ocean, forests and mountains. She always had privacy. Now though, she was laid bare to the sun, exposed by the mass of sand devoid of trees, water and rock. There was nothing but sand dunes all around her, and she shuddered at every shadow she saw, looking over her shoulder towards the horizon, terrified at what might cross over it. Whenever she turned back though, there was nothing there. She looked ahead to Hezekiah and Jadya. Hezekiah had not let Jadya take the reins of their camel once since they set off, despite her insistence. Eventually, her maidservant gave up and allowed Hezekiah to guide them with his own hands. Mavina was almost the same, however the hot sun eventually became too much for her and so she decided to sleep. Leona noticed that Jadya had also slumped onto Hezekiah’s broad shoulders, so she kicked her camel into a faster trot to catch up and ride side by side with him. It was the first time that she had enough time alone with him to strike a conversation.
“How is my father?” Leona asked as her lips smacked together.
Hezekiah lifted a skin of water that was wrapped around his body by string and gave it to her. Leona accepted it and drank sparingly.
“Furious. Restless…but well,” the guard smiled.
Leona returned his smile and the skin of water and they continued on. She hovered with her hand over her stomach. If it was not for the baggy linen tunic over her body, then it would be clear to anyone that she was pregnant. She was not yet ready to tell Hezekiah. She was unsure as to how he would respond After a few moments, Mavina awoke from her sleep and lifted her head from Leona’s back and leant her chin on her shoulder instead. Since Leona had met Mavina, she had been overawed by her presence. Even in the blistering desert heat with blisters on her hands and chaffed legs, when Mavina rested upon her, it felt like she was sleeping too. When Mavina woke up, the feeling was even more intense. The Princess’ cheek felt so soft on her neck that every follicle on her body wanted to brush against it. Leona was jolted out of her dreamy haze by Hezekiah’s sudden stop. Leona stopped too and before long all four camels were in a line and Jadya too had been awakened.
“What is going on?” Jadya asked, wiping her eyes.
“The Guide. She has stopped.”
“What does that mean?” Mavina enquired.
“It means she has found people or danger.”
“The only danger in a place so desolate could be people,” Mavina replied.
The Guide disappeared over the horizon for some time, so long in fact, that Leona began to think they would need to continue without her. As she began to lose hope of a return, The Guide returned over the horizon and spoke briefly with Hezekiah in private before leading the way again.
“Is it safe?” Leona asked as Hezekiah began to ride again.
“It is a Zigha community, which means we are not far from the Oasis of Amaz. We will have water soon.”
“They are…they are not Nebu’s people, are they?”
Hezekiah held his hand out and Leona placed hers within it. His hands were warm and dry, but cool compared to the desert around her. “I would not take you anywhere it was not safe. The Zigha are not Amenti, they are the people of the desert. They are indigenous to this entire continent. Like the Skaermen in the north or the Molten Islanders in the southern seas of this continent.”
“Why does that make it safe?”
“Like it or not, Leona. We are the invaders here. Just like what the Harts and the Blacks are to Cesara, Cesara is to these people. Invaders are aggressors. It is in their blood. Whether that blood is Cesaran, Filosi, Hart, Black, Ismann or Amentian. Our ancestors all came from elsewhere and took this land for our own, and then fought for control of it. Before us, this land was large enough for a thousand indigenous nations from Maladh to Skaer, and now this continent is cut into seven chunks, and no one is satisfied. These people do not know conflict like we do. Fear of other people has not been so bred into them. Trust me when I say it is safe.”
When they reached the camp, the first thing that Leona noticed was the vibrant colours. She was unsure whether it was the intensity of the light or the fact she had seen nothing but orange, blue and black for days, but everything from their clothes to their tents was adorned with a rainbow of colour. Every patch of cloth had its own unique pattern and its own dye. As Leona was helped from her camel by The Guide, a little girl came running up to her, dressed from head to toe in a matching tunic, hosen and scarf, all quarter patterned in black and pink swirls. The girl hugged her leg and beamed at her. Leona was tired, but did her best to return her enthusiasm. In a language Leona did not understand, Mavina indulged the girl and said something to her which made the girl run eagerly to what appeared to be her mother. Leona had heard Mavina speak Amentian, but this tongue was nothing like that language. It was softer and more melodic.
“How do you speak the language of the Zigha?” Jadya looked dumbfounded as she asked.
“I am a woman of the world. Besides, I can only speak to children in this tongue.”
Hezekiah and The Guide unpacked the camels, and as soon as they started, there was a hoard of helpful hands around them lifting their baggage and taking it away for them. Within minutes their belongings were safe and they were being ushered through into the largest tent in the village. All around the tent were happy, smiling families sitting on cushions as colourful as their clothes. It was as if it was some sort of sin to have colourless textiles, and brightness was what brought them their joy. Sitting at the back of the tent were two women sat side-by-side. The Guide opened her satchel and brought out a pyramid shaped dye pot filled with a golden liquid and bowed her head as she handed it to them.
The first woman accepted it. She had beautiful black curly hair, but with the tips died gold. This woman was clearly the leader or some kind of matriarch, she must have been twice Leona’s age and was stunningly beautiful with smooth dark skin that shone bright in the sun and two large eyes that seemed to give out more light than they took in. She passed the dye to the second woman, who was equally as comely, but much younger, far closer to Leona’s age if not just a few years older. This girl was not slim like the first woman. She had large features. Not only her feet, her hands and her body, but also her lips and round cheeks. These women made Leona feel at ease immediately as they smiled and gave gestures of thanks to The Guide. There was no leer in their passing glance or menace in their movement like there when she met new men. All of the people seemed pleased to have them there.
“Leona Pascis, this is Ahabih, leader of this village” The Guide said in the Common Tongue and then introduced Leona to Ahabih in Zighan. The lady with the golden-tipped hair stood up from her cushion and pulled Leona close to her. Then the large woman followed her lead. “This is Terah, the village Guardian.” Terah bowed to her, but did not touch her, and whilst Leona thought this was strange, she held back her urge to greet Terah with an embrace. Leona was cautious not to intrude on their customs. She was in their tent, in their village, in their desert. She was hot and tired, and could not express how grateful she felt.
“What is the role of the Guardian?” Leona turned and asked The Guide.
The Guide’s Common Tongue was limited, but in lieu of her inability to articulate Terah’s role in the village, she pointed at Hezekiah, who was standing at the edge of the tent, looking out into the desert. She then patted her side, and gestured towards the sword in Hezekiah’s hilt. Leona looked down towards Terah’s cushion, and noticed the two spears either side with their sharp, bronze tips. Leona thought that these were ceremonial, but now she knew that these were not only real, they were the Guardian’s selected weapons of choice. She wondered how skilled this woman was, and more importantly, if she would be capable of defending them from Nebu’s riders. Leona herself has always known how to wield a sword, but she was no warrior. She wondered if it was the same for Terah and Ahabih. Were they too like Hezekiah, or were they like Leona, capable in equal measure as she was fallible? She thought it rude to ask, and truly, did not really want to find out.
The group were welcomed by what seemed a grand feast. Cylindrical clay pots like tiny chimneys sat atop plates that were brought into the tent one by one, and when the cylinder was removed, a great waft of steam lifted off an array of vegetables and grains. Potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions were seasoned with coriander, turmeric and cinnamon. The travellers had all been given time to rest and cool down, but this was far too hot for Leona to eat, and so she sat and appreciated it, sat as their honoured guest between Ahabih and Terah. On either side of them were Mavina and Hezekiah, whilst Jadya and the maidservants mingled with the other villagers. Mavina seemed to be eager to learn more of the language with Terah, whilst The Guide sat opposite Ahabih and Leona to translate their conversation. Ahabih had been told everything about their journey, where they were going and why. Hezekiah had arranged with them a supply of wool, vegetables and spices in exchange for their silence and their hospitality, which was readily agreed. Truth was an important thing for the Zigha people. It did not matter who you were or what you had done, all that was required was your honesty. If you gave them that and your kindness, you would receive their hospitality.
Ahabih said something through a mouthful of vegetables. Leona looked at The Guide who smiled and swallowed her own food before speaking. “The Leader asks you what name you feel your child might one day have.”
Leona looked across at The Leader who was smiling expectantly. She instinctively put her hand over her belly and tried to repress all of the thoughts about what it would mean to have Nebu’s child. “That depends on whether it is a boy or a girl,” she finally said, uncommitted.
The Guide translated but was met with a bemused stare from The Leader, which followed what seemed to be an explanation from The Guide. It was then that Mavina stepped in, having overheard their conversation. “Forgive me, Queen. It is an unusual construct to understand here. Names are given here based on feeling, ritual and spirit, not on sex. Many children are not named until they are at least eight and have demonstrated the traits that will guide their future.”
The Guide nodded at Mavina thankfully, clearly unsure of how to articulate the sentiment in the Common Tongue. Leona thought about it for a moment and wondered why boys and girls were given different names. My name means Lion, and yet my father calls me Iliona instead of Ilion, she thought. “What does your name mean, Ahabih?” Leona asked. This time, The Guide did not hesitate. She did not even need to ask The Leader. She turned to Leona and said in a voice as cold as winter air. “It means Golden.”
Laying in bed that night, Leona stared out of the open-front of the tent at the myriad of stars that lit the dunes. With a lack of space available, the tent was given to the travellers, but they all crammed in together. Hezekiah decided to sleep wrapped in furs at the foot of the tent, such was his desire to guard them even in his sleep. Whilst inside it, Jadya and the maidservants found space on their own hides whilst Mavina and Leona shared a hammock propped up on two firm sticks that had been forced into the ground. Whilst Leona enjoyed the company, she struggled to sleep in Mavina’s presence. No matter what she did, she was totally transfixed with her husband’s sister. At every word from her mouth, she would listen intently, and with every movement she would watch her like she would a dancer. Even when sleeping beside her, watching her sleep suddenly became more entrancing than all the stars in the Great Galla.
Eventually though, Leona drifted into her dreams and found herself once again in the middle of the desert, but this sand was not gold, but black and ice cold beneath her feet. Although she knew it was cold, it did not bother her, as her skin felt just as icy. She looked up and saw thick black clouds covering the skies, allowing only dim light through. The air was thick with smoke and all around her lay the bones of human beings and animals. She paid no mind to any of this, she just carried on walking as her calloused feet crushed the bones like they were no more than twigs on a forest floor.
After she spent some time walking, Leona realised that she was no longer pregnant. She went to lift her dress to check for her child, but when she looked down at her stomach, she realised she was naked and if she ever had been pregnant, then she was no longer. Still, none of this seemed strange to Leona. It all seemed very normal to her, as if she had walked here a thousand times, and would walk here a thousand times more. The more she walked, the more the bones piled up around her, they seemed to be pushing up from beneath the ground until they lifted her higher and higher. Once they had stopped, Leona then knew it was time to wait.
Sure enough, after she had waited for a while, it approached her. She called the thing, it, because it was not human-like, nor like any living being she had ever seen. It was shapeless and colourless, and if she did not know better, she would have said it was mindless. But it spoke. Not in the Common Tongue, not in any other language she recognised, but in feeling. It spoke in tingles and aches and pains and warmth and shivers. It surrounded her and encompassed her until she understood what it wanted. “No,” she replied. “No. It is not time. You must come back though.”
Leona picked up more of its signals on her skin and gasped at how frantic it was becoming. She stood firm and stamped her foot on the ground, shattering a skull that had been resting underneath her feet. “You will wait. You will wait until I am ready,” she told it and took a deep breath. Leona looked to the thick clouds, opened her arms and as they parted to reveal the blue sky, she awoke calmly and peacefully. She did not feel tired or like she wanted to remain in her hammock. She felt as though she had slept enough and was ready to start her day in the village.
Mavina was still fast asleep beside her, and Leona saw no reason to disturb the princess as she slept. When Leona walked out of the tent, she was greeted by two young girls who seemed to have been waiting for her to awaken. They pulled her over towards an old man who was sat upon a cushion behind a squat clay cauldron filled with steaming beige soup that he stirred with a bronze ladle. He picked up a bowl that was painted blue at the top and yellow at the bottom and scooped a big helping into the bowl before placing it atop a knitted cloth and passing it to Leona.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Sahia,” a voice came from behind her. Leona turned around to see Terah standing behind her, awaiting the cook to serve her a bowl of the soup. “It means thank you.”
“Sahia,” Leona smiled at the cook. “You know the Common Tongue?” Leona asked Terah.
“Some. Learn from travellers.”
Leona did not realise that so many travellers crossed through this desert, and yet the community seemed to remain unharmed despite how open they would be to bandits and thieves. Particularly when their Guardian was a girl not too much older than herself. The more Leona thought on it, the more she worried about what would happen to this village if Nebu’s riders found out they were harbouring her. Hezekiah was strong, but Nebu was not foolish enough to send just one man. He would have his men spread out throughout the desert by now, and perhaps even outside of Ilturbia’s gates waiting for her to return. After all, where else could she possibly go?
Leona put the deep wooden spoon into her soup and swirled it around and began to eat the it. It was bitter, but deeply warming and full of herbs that sent a cooling sensation through her nose and mouth. It was silky smooth, oily, but very light. After her first bite, she could not stop, and finished the entire bowl in moments. Without thinking, she handed the bowl back to the cook, eager for another serving, but he simply thanked her and threw it in a metal pot full of water. Leona was disappointed, and then she looked around at the rest of the community, eating their single bowl of soup. It took her a moment to remember where she was. That here, she could not just ask for more food, more drink, more of anything. Leona had never known scarcity in her life. She was surrounded by abundance. After a moment or two, she realised that she was in fact full, and did not need anymore of the delicious soup.
Hezekiah approached Terah and Leona after they had finished their food and bowed to Terah. “Aleiko,” he said to Terah. The Guardian responded in kind and walked away.
“You’ve learned the language quick,” Leona commented.
“The Guide has been very helpful,” Hezekiah looked over his shoulder to see The Guide smiling towards them, and it was only then that Leona realised how pretty she was and how similar of age she was to Hezekiah.
“I am thinking it may be wise to stay here for a few days,” Hezekiah told her.
“We are being chased. Should we not be moving faster not staying still?”
“The way I see it, we have three options. Run faster than the riders, which we cannot do because we are two to a camel. Run slower than the riders and be caught. Or…we stay still, let them ride past us and take the long way to Maladh where they would not expect us to be.”
“It is a sound plan, but how long is the long way? We are trekking through the desert, and I am only going to get more pregnant and slower the longer we are out here.”
“Princess, I will carry you if need be, do not worry about that. My sole concern is your safety.”
“I believe you may have other concerns too, my friend,” Leona gestured towards The Guide and smiled. He returned it briefly. “I am happy to stay for as long as you see fit. I don’t think I thanked you, Hezekiah, for rescuing us in Aljan. There is a reason my father trusts you, and I do too.”
“If I can give you one piece of advice to last you the rest of your days, Leona, it is to always trust those who show you mercy when it is against their best interests. I was one among hundreds of men spared after Natonia lost The Battle of the Rocky Shore. We had a fierce fight. I was stronger, taller, and more experienced, but your father…he was smarter, quicker. He disarmed me and had me on my back with a jagged rock digging in my spine as the waves crashed against my head. He sheathed his sword without a word and told me it was over. I was prepared to die, but he would not kill an unarmed man. He was scarcely a year older than you are now, and it was Marius’ word in Commander Alal’s ear that convinced him to capture rather than kill us. After a few years, when I finally accepted that my ransom would not be paid, Marius asked Alal if I could join his Unit. It took me a long time to trust him in truth. There were many times I planned to kill him and make good on my escape back home, but I could never go through with it. In my entire life, I had never felt so welcomed, so trusted, so loved. Marius made it so that Cesara was my home. Your father made me Cesaran. Your father’s mercy is the only reason I am alive and by your side. You have no need to thank me, Leona. Just pay your father’s kindness forward.”
That evening was much like the night before. Their feast was delicious and filling, the atmosphere was fun and talkative as the entire village wanted to know more and more about their guests. There was a group drumming and playing long wooden pipes that produced a deep gurgling sound that people were dancing too. Leona was dragged to her feet by Terah who spun her around and laughed as she tried to copy The Gurdian’s moves. Hezekiah danced with The Guide whilst Jadya and the other maidservants danced with the children. Leona looked around for Mavina who was nowhere to be seen within the large, communal tent.
After a few songs, Mavina still hadn’t appeared in the tent. Leona was concerned. Mavina was always the heart of a party and did not think that she would want to miss out on all of the fun that they were having. Leona excused herself from Terah and found Hezekiah who accompanied her without hesitation to find her, to put Leona’s mind at ease. It was when they were outside the tent that they realised that almost the entire village was inside one tent. It was always quiet in the desert, but it was a hushed silence, a silence that held something back. It was in that moment that Leona heard the whinnying of a horse and a scream.
All of a sudden, three horsemen rode over the dunes and into the village carrying burning torches. Immediately the horsemen set the torches against the fabric tents and they started to burn instantly. Leona shouted and the people of the village ran from the main tent and into the cold night of the desert. The children panicked and cried whilst Leona frantically tried to find Hezekiah, but in the commotion, the adults of the village began to descend upon the horsemen like the smoke that bellowed off the burning tents. Before the horsemen had even realised what was happening, they were completely encircled. The tents around them still burned, but each was far enough away from the next that the flames could not reach and were halted by the desert sand. Hand in hand, the people of the village stood tall in silence surrounding the three horsemen. Taking a step forward in unison to enclose them together.
Leona saw a flash of doubt in the eyes of one of the riders, and in that doubt, he pulled his cutlass from his sheath and the other three riders followed suit. He shouted something in Amentian, that Leona thought could only mean away or get back. “Ayan ahnu Leona Pascis?” The rider shouted, trying to assert some level of power in their enclosed space. It was a stalemate, they had the weaponry, but the village had the numbers. Leona wondered how long their resolve would last. She was yanked into the ring of the circle by a strong arm. She looked at her betrayer, and it was Ahabih, but the Leader shot her a look that said trust me. Leona’s heart pumped against her chest as she locked arms with the Zigha people beside her.
Then the circle opened slightly. It was Hezekiah and The Guide who separated so that a figure could enter the circle. This figure was short and plump and carried two spears. It was Terah. The Guardian thrust one of the spears into the sand and held the other in both hands above her heads. “Qalayakun ladak Leona Pascis. Qhadarru Shawan.”
There was a tense silence as Terah held her spear and stood completely still, as if a tsunami could wash over her and her feet would not have shifted an inch. The horsemen circled her slowly, but no one moved to help her. This was the job of the Guardian – to protect its people and repel those who would cause them harm. It was what the Zigha people had done for thousands of years. Leona looked across to Hezekiah, who, in the light of the fire and the burning torches, could see was desperate to step in. But this was not his fight. This fight belonged to Terah.
Terah allowed the riders to circle her. There was not a twitch or a flinch in her body. As if to test her, one rider made a move with his sword to slash her and pulled away at the last moment, but Terah still did not move. They looked at each other in confusion, unsure of how to attack this statue before them. Then they threw their torches into the sand and descended on Terah in one movement, but Terah rolled underneath one of the horses and came out of the other side. Terah could have then thrust her spear into the horse’s back legs, but it seemed she had no intention of harming anyone other than the men riding them. The rider turned the horse quickly and it reared high upon its hind legs, but Terah stood there watching it as its hooves landed in front of her. The rider brought down his cutlass, but she rolled again to the horse’s side, dug the spear into the ground and hoisted herself up onto the horse behind him in one flowing movement. She pulled a blade from her waist and dragged it across his throat so quickly that it took a moment for her to comprehend what had happened. Then Terah threw the man into the sand and took control of his horse. She pulled her spear from the sand and turned to the two remaining riders.
Now the riders were stunned into stillness. A strong wind swept through the village and the flames on the ground flailed frantically in the wind as if the fire was trying to escape its torch. The tents continued to burn behind them. Everyone in the circle then took another step forward. In the enclosed circle, the riders seemed to decide it was best for them to both attack at once. They moved in slowly, cautious of the length of her spear and the fact their cutlasses were no longer than short swords. Terah’s horse seemed strangely comfortable beneath her knew rider. This was an Amentian Horse, known for its speed, endurance and strong bones. This one seemed particularly spirited, however it barely seemed to notice Terah sat upon its saddle, as if she was floating gently above him.
Terah continued to remain with her back to the circle, clearly eager not to be surrounded again. Leona felt a prang of frustration. If Hezekiah would only get involved, then this would all be over, but she tried to remember this was not about her. This was the culture of the village. This was their way, and she must trust her hosts. In a flash, one of the riders kicked his horse into a canter and the circle broke, allowing him to escape, the other rider tried to follow, but seeing his intention, Terah launched her spear at his chest without hesitation, and the rider was pulled from his horse and landed on his back in the sand. Terah turned her horse and galloped after the fleeing rider into the darkness. Hezekiah then restrained the riderless horse and soothed it gently. The villagers broke the circle and rushed to the burning tents, throwing buckets of water and sand over the flames. Leona ran to Hezekiah.
“We cannot let her go alone, we have to go after them.”
“This is not our fight Leona, it would be a great insult to the Zighan people.”
“We don’t have to fight, but we have to help!”
Leona hoped that Hezekiah knew her well enough to know that she would not back down. He lifted himself up onto the horse and he pulled her up behind him. If Terah’s horse was spirited, then this horse was a tornado. The horse reared immediately and it took all of Hezekiah’s steely resolve and composure to calm it down. Then he kicked it into a canter and the horse shot away like an arrow loosed from a drawstring, so fast that Leona felt as if she was riding a thunderbolt. It was dark, but Leona saw the direction of the tracks in the sand which were lit by the stars. Before long, Leona and Hezekiah came upon the last rider and Terah. They stood face to face, their horses nowhere to be seen. The rider’s hood had been removed, and Leona recognised the man. He was one of Nebu’s guards; Gaunan. It was only now that he was dismounted that Leona saw the tower of a man he was, almost seven-feet tall with shoulders as broad as the horizon and a long, flat face with a bulbous chin. He waved the cutlass in his hand around like a normal man would hold a dagger. Terah circled around him from a distance, eager to avoid his reach. She had lost her spear and had only her knife that she had used to cut the throat of her enemy’s comrade.
Leona and Hezekiah watched on helpless as Gaunan descended upon Terah. He swung his sword, but Terah rolled away. She was quick, but Gaunan’s stride was long, and he was soon upon her again with another swipe. Terah barely escaped the blade and was panting heavily, crouched with her hands planted in the sand. Leona buried her head into Hezekiah’s chest. She could not interfere, as much as she wanted to, it was not her place. Gaunan seemed to savour the moment before he brought down his sword upon her, he smirked and caressed the sword handle. Then he brought it down.
But she was gone. Terah sprung from her legs and flew like a shooting star into Gaunan’s stomach, her entire body was off the ground and Gaunan was knocked down beneath her weight. They both lay prone on their back in the sand. Leona rushed over to them, but when she got to Terah, she was already on her feet standing over Gaunan. Leona stood beside her as they surveyed the body of Nebu’s rider. He was alive, but the handle of Terah’s knife was sticking out of his heart, he was reaching towards them with his tree-trunk like arms as blood began to spew from his mouth. After a moment, Terah knelt beside him and whispered words into his ear inaudible to Leona and Hezekiah.
As she spoke, Gaunan’s eyes emitted a sharp flash of white light as bright as the Great Galla above them. Leona and Hezekiah stepped back in shock, but Terah continued to talk. Gaunan died. There was no life left in his body, and yet his eyes shone. Terah looked deep into his eyes and then a voice came from Gaunan’s mouth, but it was not the voice of a man. It was the voice of a woman, and she spoke in the Common Tongue. Leona could not avert her gaze from the scene before her.
“Find him!” The voice called. Find him and bring him to me.”