Strength and Honor (an excerpt)
The showers began around midday and lasted well into the night, threatening to scour away anything that was not firmly rooted to the ground. The thatch huts of the small village had become damp and then increasingly sodden as the hours had gone by without a reprieve from the torrential downpour. Many of the occupants of the shoddy huts worried whether their homes would remain standing by the dawn of the next day as they huddled near their fires for warmth and to remain in the few dry spots that were left.
Had they looked outside they might have been inclined to cock their heads in confusion at the figure that dared to walk about in this deluge. Some might have found the kindness to offer what meager shelter they had, while others would have most likely hurried back inside, their curiosity quickly sated in the face of the storm. A peal of thunder ripped across the sky as the figure entered the hamlet, her slight form seeming quite small when compared to the storm that raged within the heavens.
Through the muddy streets that had reached ankle depth hours ago and were nearly as slick as an ice flow, the figure’s step remained as sure as though she were walking upon dry, well-placed flagstones. Neither the biting wind that tore at her clothing nor the numbing cold, brought on by the constant rain seemed to faze her in the least. Her gaze never wavered for an instant as she passed among the small huts, her purpose unknown to all save herself.
There was a reason she had come to this place, a reason known only to her and a few others. Her purpose had long ago become moot, for she was bound by only by honor and a horrifying vengeance to act as she must, and nothing short of an army would stop her. So firm was her resolve that even such a force would be hard pressed to stand between her and the goal she now traveled toward.
Despite this she could still feel deep inside her being, past her training, past her beliefs, past even the damaged presence that was her soul, a stirring that had been growing for some time now. This feeling gnawed at her day by day, threatening to escape the bonds she was constantly forced to place upon it. If allowed to run free it would no doubt spread throughout her entire being like wildfire, burning all that lay before it until she was no more than an empty shell who knew nothing more than the heat of battle.
Despite the tempting desire to succumb to her own inner darkness, she had kept it idle, forcing it back time and again in favor of what she had been taught to believe. Her training, both mental and physical, had allowed her to not only keep the wilder feelings of her heart at bay, but to begin to understand them as well. As understanding had come so had curiosity, and eventually a mild desire to test her limits of self-control.
Such tests had come with a high price each time as she was quick to realize that in
order to understand the intensity of such feelings she was required to give up a certain portion of herself in the process. Such occurrences had left her drained both mentally and
spiritually. The last time she had seen fit to test the limits of her control she had nearly lost herself to the urges that had come unbidden to her heart and had been forced to end the test prematurely in order to retain her honor. What had been stripped away however, or rather replaced, was the price of her curiosity.
The event had taken place no more than four months prior and was still rather fresh in her mind. Her transition had been brought on by the knowledge of a betrayal so vile that the mere thought of the act ignited a spark of rage that she would not dare to show upon her face. Yet her eyes, what some called the windows to the soul, could not and would perhaps never be able to contain such a hideous secret, as it ignited a fire that burned with a ferocity that threatened to consume all that she was, her honor not the least of these things.
With these thoughts in mind she hardly noticed the furious squall that vented its rage upon the small village, threatening to wash it away towards the cliffs that lay a few miles off. The fat, stinging raindrops had been replaced by a storm of hailstones the size of skipping rocks. Despite this uncomfortable fact she did not flinch as they pelted her small frame, leaving small red welts where they struck her exposed skin.
The silver scarf that was tied around her neck had ceased flapping in the harsh winds and was now plastered against her slender throat like a second skin. It was a mild irritant, though she didn’t bother to peel it off. The sash that was knotted around her waist, normally rather nondescript and adept at hiding things, was now revealed for the storage space it was as the outlines of several vials and small objects could be seen.
The shirt she wore was a simple garment of woven fibers and had long ago turned a dark brown, allowing her to keep a certain if not quite adequate amount of modesty. The garment hung on her small frame not unlike a horse blanket with small openings cut for her arms and head. The wind and rain had conspired to press the front of the shirt against her body snug enough to show off her trim build, while the back of the overly large garment was left to flap in the fierce winds like some humble banner, proclaiming her apparent lack of station.
She wore simple cloth breeches that had been quickly saturated by the downpour and were pressed tightly to her legs, showing twists and cords of muscle that would have made a fully grown stallion blanche. Her boots were of simple make, crafted for one such as herself who was destined to wander both long roads and longer days. Though they had no grip to their soles she walked with a sure and steady stride, never once faltering in her determined gait.
Her objective was no more than a few hundred feet away now, an elaborate stone building which seemed far out of place amongst its poorly constructed surroundings. A feral light gleamed within the depths of her eyes, her normally docile gaze burning brightly as she gazed upon the building. Many would have cringed or stared in fascination at the eyes this woman possessed, some would even perhaps make the signs to ward away evil. Broken chips of ice blue were shot through with bright golden veins that seemed to alight in the darkness, making her gaze all the more unusual. Hardened warriors had been easily unnerved by a mere glance from her eyes, finding that intensity
within her gaze was far too much to stand.
Hair the color of a raven’s feathers lay coiled against the back of her head and
upper back, the single long braid having been looped three times in the fashion she had enjoyed since girlhood. The remainder of the braid was extended out far enough to hang in the center of the loops, dripping water down her back as it too absorbed much of the rain. When left unbound her hair would extend all the way to her ankles, the result of growing it long since she was nine years old, the age at which her life had changed.
The huts surrounding the temple, which were still standing through the worst of the storm, began to decline in number as she neared the building that was now identifiable as a place of worship. The temple had been built by the order she had been raised to revere since the tender age of nine, and was now one of the places she would rather not enter. It was only a three story structure, though in town such as this it easily towered above the huts that were set a respectful distance from its walls. Its exterior was covered from corner to corner with carvings which depicted great warriors and benevolent priests, and the common folk who had been so graciously saved by both. Looking upon the scenes set into the stone she could barely suppress a snort of disgust at the hypocrisy she knew to be buried within each carving. Coming closer she could make out the temple’s most prominent feature, the symbol of the order’s patron. A fiercely burning sun sat above a long sword crafted from pure silver had been set roughly ten feet above the massive double doors for all to see. It was sign of nobility, courage, honor and justice. For one such as her, the gleaming polish of the symbol had long ago failed to inspire.
As she traversed the three wide steps that were carved deeply into the slight hillside that led up to the front doors she lowered her hand to her right hip. Hanging beneath a sodden cloth shroud was an item that she knew would be most useful before the night was through, hidden from the elements and any curious eyes for the time being. Its weight at her side had become one of the only comforts she felt these days, as though it was a constant reminder of her own resolve and indomitable sense of honor. It would never leave her, never betray her, and would always be ready to defend her.
With her right hand she managed to shift the item from her hip to behind her left leg, where it nestled quite well. The act was familiar after so long, both weapon and wielder so completely bonded that it at times it felt as little more than an extension of her body. Its presence when behind her not only gave her heart a warming sensation, but also served as a firm reminder of the path she had chosen to walk.
As she arrived at the large oaken doors she noticed a pale yellow light spilling from beneath the gap between door and stoop. It was a soft light, much like that cast by a candle, indicating that there was someone still awake within the temple halls. Had she possessed any faith in the patron she’d once followed she might well have thanked him for such luck. If the priests were still in the process of offering their nightly prayers her task would be all that much easier.
The doors were of simple make as opposed to their adornments. A knocker cast from pure silver and shaped in the same holy symbol as that which hung above the doors, though the long sword that hung beneath the sun was used as the knocker. A silver plate lay beneath the door handle, allowing whoever wished entry to knock without marring the precious wood. Wide iron bands ran north to south on both doors, a flourish to the
temple that supposedly a penitent order, devoted only to its patron and the common folk.
Instead of first reaching up to knock upon the doors she made one more
adjustment to the item against the back of her leg, placing both hands in her armpits shortly after. To complete the effect she hunched over slightly to indicate a deep chill. She began to shiver, which was not terribly difficult considering her current location and allowed her jaw to loosen so that her teeth would chatter, further adding to her pathetic appearance. Allowing her eyes to reflect how truly cold she was became the final addition so as to insure that whoever opened the door to observe her from a safe distance.
The chill she feigned had become real by the time she heard a pair of slipper-clad feet from the other side of the door. There was the sound of a bolt being slowly drawn back, and then the creak of the door as it was eventually pulled open wide enough for a small, mouse-looking man to poke his head through.
His appearance was that of a person who’d just been roused from a deep slumber, the drowsiness still apparent in his eyes and the remaining wisps of his hair floating about his head like a halo. His face was deeply lined with age yet his eyes held none of the years that had so ravaged his face, remaining bright and energetic.
He was only a few inches shorter than she, making him just a hair over five feet tall, which made it necessary for him to peer up at her. Thankfully the light from the candle inside was not enough to penetrate the shadows that clung to her person, leaving her eyes in deep pools of darkness. Had he seen the broken appearance of her eyes she might well have been denied and even set upon by whatever guard might be stationed here. Priests were nothing if not cautious.
“Na na my child! But what are ye doin’ out in this cursed gale? Not right, not right I say fer a young lass such as yerself t’be sufferin’ so, na na!” The man pushed the door wider to admit her, grinning as he did so.
“But come in, come in my child! Come in and warm yer bones by th’ hearth. Ah me, I should need t’ light it first eh? Come, come child have seat by the hearth and I shall go and fetch some kindling so we can get the chill out of yer bones eh? Yar, ye set here a spell and I shall go and fetch ye some fresh clothes and a blanket, and then p’rhaps something t’ warm yer bones eh?”
She did not speak once as the old man prattled on, leading her to a large fireplace that sat ten feet to the left from the front doors. It was a large fireplace indeed, spanning a good ten feet across and six high, large enough to fit at least four or five grown men comfortably. He guided her gently towards a large, velvet lined cushion that had been set near the hearth, instructing her to sit there and wait for him to return. She did as he bade without comment, sitting carefully upon the cushion so that she wouldn’t disturb the item that lay behind her leg. If the old man noticed he said nothing, going on his way to obtain the items of which he’d spoken.
As soon as he left she let her gaze roam about the rest of the temple, taking in each and every detail. The depictions carved upon the outer walls were tame when compared to the epic battles and scenes of worship that were so vividly displayed inside. Upon the eastern most wall, behind the pulpit, were two such visions that had been commissioned by the church. On the left side an eternal war raged between a serpentine
creature of colossal proportions and the three founding knights of the order, each of them depicted in all their glory, their blades made of silver set into the stone and their patron deity set on high, watching over and seemingly guarding his followers. To the right the
scene displayed a single priest sitting amongst a circle of worshipers that ran too many heads deep to easily count, the stonemason’s rendering so lifelike that he’d caught each individual within the stone as though he’d known each person intimately. A silver sun was portrayed above the priest’s head, the representation of their patron as the priest’s voice was augmented to reach the masses.
What truly drew her attention to this wall however was not either scene, but rather the engraving that lay above each of them, set between the two so as to encompass each. A wooden pulpit stood between the main floor upon which sat double rows of pews, each having been painstakingly carved from stone. The words carved into the eastern wall were an inscription that could be found at each and every temple within the many lands they’d built upon, every single syllable having been burned into her mind years ago.
Aryaeion us Solyndae, Jiswaet sa Svrevet: Honor Above All, Justice Be Served. These were the founding words that had spawned the order and had been a part of her being since the age of fourteen, when she had taken the vows of knighthood. Thunder rolled across the sky outside as she closed her eyes, willing herself to remain still despite the lack of heat.
The words still sent a slight shudder down her spine as they reminded her not only of the duty, but of the reason she had seen fit to betray in kind those who still adhered to the code. Once, when she had faithfully served those who raised her, she had known pride, a sense of purpose, and had looked to her superiors as a child looks to a parent. Now looking upon the visages of those who had laid the foundation for the order she likened them instead to snakes who posed as men, heartless and ultimately uncaring. Their promises were akin to treachery laced with golden honey, sweet at first and souring quickly as the price of their kindness was swiftly revealed.
Looking from the wall she shifted her gaze to the source of light within the chamber, a large wax candle that was nearly as wide around as her body. Set upon an ornate iron stand it was placed relatively close to the hearth, its light easily reaching the front doors. She could see that its three wicks were set equidistant from each other and had burned down enough that only the flames were visible, melting the wax so that it ran down the iron stand.
Her musings were interrupted as she heard the rush of slippers coming swiftly down a staircase that lay behind and to the left of the altar. She could easily guess that the steps led up to the living quarters and other rooms of the temple, which if this temple was like others would house two dozen or more priests, half as many initiates, and half again that many warriors. No temple was ever left undefended, be it a single soldier or more.
While the warrior sect was a mixture of men and women from around the continent, all priests were strictly male. No woman in history had ever managed to attain the title of priest in the order and most likely never would. Men of different ethnicities were allowed only if sponsored by an existing priest in good standing, but women were
only allowed to become servants, aides, or knights, never to preach to the masses. Thinking back upon her life she would not have had it any other way. She saw the pulpit
as a place for those who liked to talk and for those who craved politics and men, at least in her estimation, were a perfect mix of both.
She locked her thoughts away as the old man approached her, arms laden with clean clothes and a large woolen blanket. He had changed from a cotton nightshirt into a simple brown robe and tucked several tinder twigs and what looked like a well-used flint into the rough length of rope that secured his garment. His head was barely visible above the linen and clothing as he was forced to crane his neck to see where he was going. How he managed to find his way down the stairs without falling was amazing, but then most likely he had not resided anywhere but the temple for some time, and most likely knew every step from one corner to the next.
“Na na my young lass here we are now. The robes and breeches might be a wee big, but if’n that be th’ case then I have here a length o’ rope that’ll remedy that fer right sure! If ye’ll just go ahead and relieve me o’ these things then I shall attempt t’get a fire burning in yon chasm.”
Doing once again as he asked she carefully took the clothing and the blanket from his grasp, allowing him to walk over to the fireplace with tinder and flint in hand. He then knelt slowly by the edge of the hearth where he began the attempt to start a blaze.
She looked very carefully at the clothing he’d brought. The breeches and robe were indeed a few sizes too large, leading her to believe this place housed far more men and women, if it had any of the latter at all. If so then they were very large and robust maidens indeed. The rope he’d brought would encircle her waist at least twice before being tied off and upon closer inspection the blanket smelled of dust long since settled and ground into the fabric. She cast the whole lot to the floor, gently, without even bothering to look at the shirt and instead fixed her stare upon the elder man’s back.
He was nearly sweating with exertion from trying to strike an adequate spark, the flint almost dropping from his fingers several times as she watched. Finally however, perhaps thanks to some benevolent force, a small spark struck the tinder and began to smoke. Giving a content and very much out of breath sigh he rose to his feet, brushing dust and soot from his knees before tucking the flint in between his rope belt and his body once more. Upon turning to face her he frowned slightly after noticing the pile of clothing at her feet.
“My child, they canna be that big now can they?” The old man cocked his eyebrows in apparent disbelief, clearly not understanding her desire to remain in her sopping wet clothes.
“No, they are fine.” As she replied her voice was barely above a whisper, making the old man lean in so that he heard her correctly.
“Then change dear child, afore ye catch yer death. I’ll turn me back whilst ye do, no need t’ fret about me none.”
“Do you have tea?” Her cultured accent was still light as she inflected a hint of weakness into it, keeping the act of the pathetic wandering waif quite easily.
“Tea? Oh aye lass we have plenty o’ tea, we also have warm cider and ah, if it serves ye, we’ve still a bit o’ the old vintage left in yon cellar if ye ken. It’d do the body a bit o’ good so it would.” He kept his voice low and added an almost comical note of conspiracy to it that she found utterly ridiculous.
“Tea please.” She placed just a hint of iron in her voice, alerting the old man to
the fact that she was not amused. Obviously hearing the slight change in her tone the old man opted to scuttle off once more, his footsteps padding lightly lest he wake one of his
brethren. She lowered her eyes to her hands as he left to find the refreshment, taking note of the calluses and scars that had accumulated throughout the years. Her fingers were both dexterous and strong, never having been meant to live the life of a noble or even a farmer. Life had ever deigned to offer her the hardest of trials, the most arduous of tasks. The years of her life while not evidenced by any other part of her body could be mapped out in the deeply tanned and worn lines that crossed her hands from palms to fingertips.
“Ah here we are, a soothing eckleberry tea fer you m’young lass and ah, if’n ye don’t mind none, a wee dram fer me’self, just a wee bit t’ warm me old bones if ye ken.” She eyed the wooden mug that he cradled in one hand, the strong smell of spirits wafting from it depths.
She nodded, a grin that did not reach her eyes spreading across her delicate lips so as to allow him to think that she did not mind his indulgence at all. The revelation had donned upon her before he’d returned that this man was a servant, not a priest, but a peasant who’d been made caretaker of the temple. His rough speech had been the first giveaway and the late night libation had only confirmed her suspicion. Nonetheless her revulsion was almost too great to hide as she quickly took the warmed cup from his other hand, savoring the sweet fragrance the steam brought to her chilled nostrils.
Inhaling deeply of the tea’s spiced scent she allowed herself to relish the enticing tartness of the berries that had been mulled to produce the beverage. Obviously he’d thought her worthy of the trouble it took to prepare such a luxury, which was all the better for her purpose. Luxuries usually meant a lack of appropriate respect for the unknown that could and did occur from time to time, such as now.
“So do ye have a name t’ ye lass or shall I simply call ye young maid and have done with it?” A slight grin spread across his weathered lips as he asked this, only a few shades shy of a leer.
She said nothing at first, simply stirring her tea with one finger, feeling the warmth spread from the one digit downward into her hand and then further into her arm. She could feel the heat reviving muscles that had been chilled by the trek she’d made to this place, the feeling of pins and needles easily repressed. After taking a polite sip she swiveled her eyes, which were now lit by the warm flames that had been kindled, towards the servant, curling her upper lip into the ghost of a smile.
Upon seeing her strange gaze the servant sat back a little as though unnerved, not quite sure if he had seen what he thought he’d seen. For if it were the drink, well then come the morrow he was laying the cup aside in favor something that didn’t cause one to see things. If not the drink however then perhaps it was time to tell the young lass that if she had regained at least a small measure of warmth then it was best that she be on her way. Maybe though, just maybe, he’d been mistaken.
“And what would you do with my name good sir?” Her tone became stronger as
she spoke, though still little more than a strained whisper. The servant appeared to have nothing with which to respond at first, pondering this strange young woman who had shown up of nowhere on the back of such a horrendous storm. After a few moments however he shrugged to himself, thinking that maybe she was simply a lost child, trying
her best to seem mysterious by keeping others at bay. It was a rather common attitude among young people these days. He saw no harm in indulging her just a little.
“Why young lass, I simply ask the honor o’ whom I am sharing a cup with this night ‘tis all. There be nothin’ sinister within these walls, for ye walk under the roof of a god whose very name is sacred among the many lands. Yes lass, nothin’ ill shall befall ye here, for all within this place would rather flog themselves afore they’d allow an innocent t’ come t’ any harm.” The old man waved his mug about emphatically as he spoke, keeping his words soft enough so that he would not wake those who slumbered upstairs.
She grinned again as she took another sip of her tea, taking her eyes from the servant to gaze yet again into the fire. The flames licked at the remains of the tinder that had been nearly consumed and were in danger of extinguishing. Apparently seeing this, the old man stood despite the creaks and protests of his body, clucking his tongue at the smoldering fire.
“Ah but that isn’t any good at’all now. Here now girl, let me fetch us some more wood that we might continue our conversation eh? Don’t go movin’ now, I’ll be back.”
With that he quickly toddled off once more to find some more tinder, or perhaps a log or two in the rear of the temple. Once again looking to her hands she remembered each lesson that had been taught to her throughout her life, the training, the schooling and the wisdom of ages that she had been deemed worthy of receiving. Closing her eyes she reached behind her left leg, procuring the item she had hidden there. Carefully unwrapping it from the sopping rags she brought it to rest in her lap. Once revealed in the rapidly fading firelight it proved to be a weapon unique in design as well as construction. The core of the weapon was the body of a longsword, its leather wrapped hilt and silver pommel standard among the knighthood. The cross guard was of silver as well, painstakingly carved along both faces with the same words that were carved into the eastern wall. The blade and the four individual flanges that were placed into both edges and both flats of the blade were the unique portions of her weapon, carrying the blessing of several high priests within the order.
The special properties carried upon the blade and the crescent flanges were such that not a single one of their edges would ever chip, break, or dull. No matter how much she used the blade, and she had used it extensively in her life as of late, it would never once need the touch of a whetstone. All four flanges were crescent moons in design, placed halfway along the three foot blade and made of pure silver. The points of the moons were faced outward, enabling her to catch any opponent who let their guard down in a vicious hooking motion that would tear through flesh to bone like a hot knife through a haunch of meat. Running one hand lovely over the blade she remembered the face of the one who had presented it to her, the pride he’d shown in her abilities and the tasks they had laid before her once she had come of age.
She made no attempt to hide the weapon again as she heard the old man returning,
his arms undoubtedly full of kindling as his shuffling, unsure gait revealed. He blundered by her toward the fireplace, oblivious to the instrument that now lay upon her lap as he proceeded forward to stoke the flames.
“Here we are now. This should last us well onto an hour at the least. Then we’ll
perhaps be ready to turn in eh?” The old man shoved one fistful of kindling into the fire, pursing his feeble old lips as he tried to make the flame catch. When she still made no
reply he frowned slightly as though she were an impertinent child.
“Come come lass, ‘tis rude to not introduce oneself after having received sanctuary as ye have. My own name is Ceouvus, and I am the caretaker here at this temple. Now that I’ve introduced myself, what is your name?” He arched his snow-white eyebrows at her to emphasize the question, looking at her over his shoulder, somehow still missing the weapon in her lap.
“I apologize for my rudeness.” She laid one hand upon the hilt of her blade as she swiveled her eyes back to the servant, the appearance of a pathetic waif slowly melting into the stony visage of the warrior she was.
“My name, if it would please you to know, is Sanu’te’.”
At the mere utterance of that name Ceouvus recoiled as though she had suddenly transformed into some venomous reptile, ill-tempered and poised to strike. She made no move towards him, simply sitting where she was with one hand upon the grip of her sword, her eyes never leaving the old man’s.
“You have heard of me then.” Her voice was still maddeningly soft in the quiet of the temple, further unnerving the old man as he slowly backed away.
“You, you are the sacker of temples, the heretic, the one who was once one of the greatest among us and then turned on the order like a mongrel dog.” At the end of his sentence her gaze intensified tenfold. Rising quickly from her seated position she allowed her head to turn in the direction of her eyes, her rapt attention now toward the old man. The smaller man paled visibly as she shuffled a few meager steps backward, as though thinking he could possibly escape this witch who when done with him would no doubt seek the higher levels. If she were allowed to do this he knew in his heart that she would slaughter anyone and everyone in her path. Thinking it was better to die a hero than a coward Ceouvus opened his mouth wide and inhaled deeply to let forth as tremendous a shout as he could. It was at that moment that Sanu’te’ struck.
Expecting to be gutted from groin to sternum with the strange blade she now brandished he did his best to shift his hips backward, wind-milling his arms so as to keep his balance. Unfortunately luck was not with him as he found to remain upright he was forced to bow his head forward, exposing his throat even further as he recognized his mistake. Realization hit home as he felt the sharpened point of a flange pierce not only the soft underside of his chin, but his tongue as well. So hard was the traitorous knight’s stroke that the upper half of the flange with which she had struck was instantly pinned to the roof of his mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain he felt his tongue flop madly about in his mouth like a fish upon a gaff, blood running freely down his throat and chin as he struggled madly to escape.
As quickly as she’d struck Sanu’te’ withdrew her blade, taking care to drag the
sharpened edge of the flange across his throat, neatly severing his vocal chords along with the tendons, arteries and muscles that lay beneath his aged flesh. Gasping anew Ceouvus fell to his knees, watching in terror as his own lifeblood began to pool around him. Desperately, he attempted to stem the flow of blood within the hem of his robe, succeeding only in soiling the rough garment.
Sauntering by the wounded servant Sanu’te’ let her gaze roam once again to the staircase behind the altar where she knew the priests and warriors of the temple slept.
She flicked her blade lightly, shaking droplets of the old man’s blood upon the floor near him as her eyes found his.
“You shall meet your false god soon, as shall the rest of your order.” She still kept her voice to a whisper, her words sharp and condemning in the stillness of the temple.
Ceouvus never saw the blade descend, never felt as it parted his flesh once more. The last thing the old servant would ever see were those eyes, feral and filled with a hatred that promised he would not be the last of his order to die this night.
* * *
The storm had not abated in the short time it had taken for the unknown traveler to enter the temple, but nonetheless sounds could be heard above the squall, sounds that brought to mind to the mind scenes of mayhem and carnage so vile that the mind quailed to think of them. Folk who heard these sounds dared not venture from their sodden huts no matter how overwhelming their curiosity. Not so much as a single head poked out of an opening in the huts of the small village as over the rain and through the hail the horror- filled sounds of pain could be heard to pierce the night. The screams coming from the temple were undoubtedly human, yet as they rose together they formed a cacophony so great that it seemed as though a multitude of injured and dying animals were being systematically slaughtered. When at last the first rays of sunlight peeked through the darkened clouds the screams within the temple had gone silent. One last mournful cry dogged the heels of the single figure that made her way out of the village, a lament to whatever horrors that had been committed within the temple. The tears that stained her cheeks had begun to dry as she’d left the temple, making her way back into the wilds. The silence that fell upon her departure was, at least in the minds of the villagers, a decided blessing.