Journey to the South: Twenty-Two of Thirty

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Fiction
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     I traveled back to the inn silently, riding alone in the carriage, while Decurio Atam and his men rode in escort around the vehicle. When we returned, I spoke to Viro privately, explaining what had transpired at the fort. My wife, the blessed soul that she is, comforted me in my despair and grief until I could compose myself.

    I was surprised to find that the priests of Tule had not departed for Akhem, instead waiting to know the outcome of the accusations of murder. “I am sorry to hear that,” Rajai said said, his voice and face solemn. “If you would like, I can use our crystal – our Eye of the Smith – to relay a message to the Dux. It will get to him much more swiftly than by courier or heliograph.”

    I remember smiling and clasping the bearded priest on his upper arm. “I would appreciate that greatly, my friend.”

    Legionaries from the fort delivered the corpse of Cuahuatec not long after we returned to the inn. Atam and I carried him to the traditional catacombs of the Yevijiri and said what funerary prayers we knew, asking Jailii to guide the Gromothim’s soul to whatever land the dead of his people occupied. We stood there in that subterranean tunnel, the dessicated corpses of generations of Yevijiri dead lining the walls around us. The flame of the torch that Decurio Atam held flickering its light across the gray-brown walls. All was deathly silent, and I thought to myself, This is the peace of the dead. This is the gathering of loved ones. A silent hall of corpses beneath the earth. Nothing more.

    With those pessimistic thoughts floating through me, we returned to the surface and bade our farewells to Nev.

    The journey to Akhem was better than it would have been without the priests, but I must admit that despite the conversation and the company, my mind continued to return to and ruminate over Cuahuatec. I would wake at night from visions of the Gromothim hanging from that hope, his blind eyes staring at me with his shade’s accusations. Though Viro, Rajai, Atam, and the others would reassure me, I could not absolve myself of the feelings of guilt, of responsibility. To this day, the guilt weighs upon me, but I thank the Kritanoi that I no longer have those dreams.

    Three days after leaving Nev and Cuahuatec we approached the city walls of Akhem. Rising high – ten times the height of a man – they had stood for three hundred years as a bulwark against invaders and conquerors. In fact, when the legions of the Moy had finally reached the walls of city, it was priests of Krinai who had swam through the harbor and into the city’s sewers, sneaking through the ancient metropolis undetected until the opened the gates for their brothers-in-arms to enter. The Yevijiri had been so surprised by the penetration, that they immediately surrendered, fearing that their patron-god, Qat, had forsaken them.

    We entered through the city’s western gate, dubbed the “Eagle Gate” after Qat’s totemic animal servant in Yevijiri lore. The city of Akhem itself is a sprawling hive of activity and history, the city having been expanded and rebuilt several times throughout its nearly three millennia of existence. On our way to the Imperial Consulate, the seat of the Moy’s chief representative in the city, we passed through the Square of the Stars. So named after a legendary youth who fought off a necromancer that had planned to usurp rule of the city from its priest-king, the square had once been named after the city’s patron-deity. But, according to the legend, which many in the Moy know as “The Raiment of Stars”, the youth discovered an ancient Tainir armor that allowed him to face the necromancer in battle. The battle collapsed the old Temple of Qat – the rubble of which we could see as we passed through the square – though the different variations of the legend offer a multitude of possibilities of what happened to the youth and the legendary armor afterward.

    As our escort and our carriage slowed to a stop in front of the Consulate, I remember looking at the building with a strange mixture of lightness and heaviness to my heart. I had promised Cuahuatec his freedom once we reached Akhem. And though the slave was free after a fashion, he would never see his family, his people in this world ever again. I remember sighing heavily, and taking Viro’s arm as we entered the Consulate together.

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