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The War of Faith

AUTHOR

Chapter 1

Close to home
The faithless say, killing is abhorrent. Indeed, their lives are
abhorrent in the eyes of the gods, but they perceive not. To kill
is divine, for thereby do we praise the Great Destroyer. The
doubting ones tell themselves, death is the end of all things,
but they do not perceive that death is only a beginning. Those
who mourn consider the dead to be lost, and in this is a great
sin.
The Book of Noble Truth, chapter 6, line 31

CHAPTER 1. CLOSE TO HOME

Death came to Nolwenn before the sun had fully left the horizon.
When the strangers first rode into town, Estin had just started preparing the meal that would serve her and her young cousin Matai as both
breakfast and lunch.
Estin and Matai were both orphans, albeit for different reasons, and
although money was tight the villagers took care of them and offered
them odd jobs. Food was scarce, but they did not starve. Life was good,
even if it was hard at times.
Or at least was until death came to Nolwenn. The first sign Estin had
of the impending disaster was an distant, rumbling sound which grew in
intensity.
For a moment she wondered if it could be thunder, but then remembered that the sky had been clear when she had gone outside to perform
the first of her daily worships. Estin had been raised traditionally, and
honoured the memory of her mother by greeting the sun every day, as
her people had for centuries.
Then she heard the first scream of many, which broke the tranquility
of the early day. When she hurried out into the scarce light, saw the
form death had chosen on that day - young men on horseback.
The tremble she had heard had been the hooves of the horses, which
were a rare sight this far North. She looked around for the source of the
scream, her a knot of fear forming in her stomach she repeated a small
prayer to herself: Please let Matai be okay. Please let him be okay.
When she saw what had caused the commotion the small knot dug
its tendrils into her heart. In the middle of the road lay Emik, the healer
and midwife of the village, in a pool of her own blood.
Emik was one of the few around here who knew any healing spells at
all, and people came from far and wide for her minor spells and potions.
Nobody but Emik knew how many lives she had saved in her day, and
perhaps she herself did not even know.
And now she was clearly dead, or at the least dying. The blood which
flowed into a pool around her was dark, darker than Estin had thought
blood could ever be. It was almost black, and as she realized that the
blood was not red she also realized what was going on.
The young strangers had killed Emik. Another scream rang out, and
more villagers came out onto the street.
Estin turned to run, but found that the horsemen had cut off the only

two paths that lead out of town. To her horror she saw that a boy tried
to run down the North road, tried to escape, only to be cut down by one
of the young men.
For a moment, she thanked the gods that the boy was too big to be
Matai, but then she hated herself as she recognized the boy she had just
watched die.
His name had been Jurik, and worked at one of the local farms. He
had always been kind to Matai, in spite of his outcast status. It was
Jurik who had taught him to fish, and the fish Matai would catch in the
river were always a treat for them both.
She looked around for Matai and when she saw him her heart dropped.
Matai was standing together with some other children, under guard by
some of the strangers.
More children were being forced into the huddle, and with sinking
feeling Estin realized that these young men intended to steal the children.
At that moment, as Estin was desperately searching her mind for a
way to free Matai, to escape, some of the local men who had been out in
the nearby field came back, carrying their farming equipment - obviously
intending to put up a fight.
For a long time there had not been Bandits anywhere near Nolwenn,
and as soon as the men ran into town their inexperience became plain.
Two of the men were instantly cut down by a single rider, and another
who intended to impale a horse with his pitchfork was hit by an arrow.
The pained whinny of a horse was heard, Estin found that Karnik,
the town smith, had managed to kill one of the riders. He had come
running out of his smithy to help the farmers.
He was wielding an old sword and her stomach jumped in relief as
she remembered that the smith had been a soldier, in the distant past
before her own birth.
Another horse and rider fell to his sword, and voices were raised in a
cheer for the would-be champion of Nolwenn.
The rest of the young strangers pulled away from the smith, and from
amongst them an older man in the same white ropes rode as the youth
rode out out.
It was clear he had some rank amongst the strangers, because they
all looked to him with deference. The smith prepared himself for battle,
but the old man just gave him an almost amused look.

CHAPTER 1. CLOSE TO HOME

Karnik the soldier-turned-blacksmith was not going to wait for the


stranger to attack first. Harkesh Shayturan!, he yelled, and charged.
The stranger held his ground. At first Estin had thought him unarmed, but now she saw that he was holding a small wooden handle.
She did not have time to wonder what it was before the stranger
had swung it. Estin gasped, as strand of fire suddenly appeared and
unfailingly hit the smith, who fed the towns stray cats, between the
eyes. Magical weapons had not been seen this far North for a long time,
and at first she did not believe her eyes.
Then Karnik stopped dead in his tracks. For a moment, he stood in
place. Estins stomach turned as she saw that his skull had been split
and that blood of that cursed dark colour was flowing like from a leaky
barrel.
When he fell, he fell without bracing himself. He fell with his face
into the gravel of the path. The wet, definite sound his corpse made as
it hit the ground would never leave Estins dreams.
The brief battle was over, and the young men who had been blocking
the exits now started to round up the villagers. People were dragged,
screaming from their houses, and soon one of them came to grab Estin as
well. He did not talk, or even look at her, but only pushed her towards
the others, who were huddled together, being herded slowly towards the
river.
She looked towards the children, and it was at least a small blessing
that Matai was still with the others. Still unharmed. After a few minutes
the entire village was gathered, the children in one group and the rest in
another. The older stranger, who had killed the smith, rode up in front
of the crowd of adults and started to speak.
His voice was dry and empty, and his delivery without passion, as
if he had spoken these words a thousand times before, and was tired of
repeating himself.
Listen to me, and listen well. We are the army of the three holies,
and we have come to put an end to your blindness. The three holies have
empowered us, and our victory is now undeniable.
You have a choice. You can renounce your evil ways and abandon the
devils you worship. If you do, you will become slaves of the Divinium.
As slaves you will learn the true religion, and while your must obey
in worldly matters, your soul will become free.

Estin had never heard of a divinium, but she knew what the 3
holies were. When she was younger, and her mother had still been alive,
a missionary had come through the city. Matai had not even been born
then.
The stranger was dressed in white clothes like those of the young men,
these divinium, but unlike them the missionary had kept a long beard.
He had explained that he was Katarist, and that his people worshipped
three gods - A creator, a preserver and a destroyer.
He had won no converts and left unsatisfied. The villagers were Alazi,
and worshipped the old gods like their ancestors had before them. They
were not swayed from their way of life by the words of a stranger.
Only one of that preachers lectures had stuck with Estin. Forgive the
Shud. That children were not accountable for the sins of their parents.
Estin agreed with that, but was otherwise devout.
An old man, who Estin knew as a childless widower, took a step
forward out of the huddle. Never! We will never worship your false
gods! The man dropped to his knees and began to pray, stretching his
hands upwards. Oh Kami, intervene on our behalf! Nur, holy one, save
your ch.
The words became his last with another crack of the magical whip.
This time it had almost severed the head from the body, and as the man
slowly collapsed a spatter of blood hit Estins shoes.
Until now this had all felt like a bad dream. Now she no longer
expected to wake up. The blood of a kindly old man was on her shoes,
which were now ruined. Death had come to Nolwenn, and it intended to
stay.
The man finished his speech with the same disinterested voice. He
did not even look at his victim, who was still bleeding on the ground.
Some of the villagers tried to help the injured man, but there was no
hope of saving him.
Only Emik, the old midwife, had known any healing spells. And
Emik had been the first to die. Estin wished, again, that she had studied
healing when she was younger.
Or you can die., the leader of the strangers said. You have these
two choices. Your shameless idolatry and faithless ways are an affront to
the gods, and on this day the three holies have granted us a victory over
falsehood. Today, your idols will be smashed and your way of life comes

CHAPTER 1. CLOSE TO HOME

to an end. Whether you die with it is your choice.


Before the villagers could respond, the young men herded them towards the river. They were lined up on the edge of the water.
In the summer most citizens of Nolwenn fished from the shore, and
the river had been a source of food, water and coolness to the villagers.
Soon, it would flow with the blood of those who had once thanked
the gods for its presence. Estin looked towards the group of children
who were now being led away and her heart broke all at once. They had
Matai! They were taking him away! And there was nothing she could
do to stop them.
The terrain around Nolwenn was flat, and anyone who tried to escape
on foot would easily be hunted down by the young men on horseback.
She briefly considered the river, but it was treacherous and filled with
sharp rocks.
When the villagers bathed, they did so close to the shore, and the
young only did so with a rope around their waists.
If she pretended to renounce her religion and became a slave, perhaps
she could someday escape. Perhaps she could some day rescue Matai...
But this last thought lit a fire in her heart she had not thought existed.
They had taken Matai, the sons of donkies.
They had come to her home and killed people. People who had
committed no crime other than honouring the ways of their ancestors.
And now they demanded her obedience. Commanded her to curse
the gods she had always honoured, as her ancestors had before her.
Some of the villagers did give in and even as they cursed the names
of the six gods Estin did not blame them. The fear of death was strong,
and could not be understood until death looked you in the eyes.
Some refused, and their refusal would be followed by sick, wet sound
and then as splash. Estin looked and immediately wished she had not.
Those who refused were cut with swords before being pushed into
the water. One of the young men reached her. In his hand was a sword
which dripped with the fresh blood of her friends. The blood of those
who had sheltered her, and who had provided for Matai and herself when
the winter had eaten up their supplies.
Renounce your gods, faitless one!, yelled the stranger. Curse their
false names and you may yet live!. The voice of the young man was
trembling with hate, and she saw in his eyes that he preferred killing her

to taking her alive. She did not understand how it was possible for a
stranger to hate her.
Least of all, she did not understand how it was possible to hate someone enough that you would take pleasure in killing them. For a second,
she considered denying him the pleasure of killing her, of parroting the
his words without conviction, but then she remembered her mother.
Her mother, who had taught her how to perform the weekly worship.
Her mother, who had taught her how to remember your ancestors at
dawn.
Who had laughed as she offered food to Estin that had already been
sacrificed, saying that the gods ate only its essence and that the rest was
a blessing for human stomachs.
Her mother, who had always done her best to provide for her daughter
until she had succumbed to the rot, that one cursed disease beyond the
reach of magic.
Estin remembered the face of her mother and spat into the face of
the stranger who had brought death to Nolwenn. He swung his sword
into her chest and then she hit the water. She saw that the water was
red, and then all she saw was darkness.

Chapter 2

Youth and innocence


There is no greater evil than death, for death is the end of
consciousness. Without consciousness, there is no joy, and
joy is the only thing of any value.
The codex of Prophet Jonal, volume 3, chapter 5, line 71

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CHAPTER 2. YOUTH AND INNOCENCE

Death came to Nolwenn on a beautiful day. When the strangers first


rode into town, Matai was fishing by the riverside with Oris, his best
friend.
Oris and Matai had been friends for as long of either of them remembered. It was only a week until Oris would turn ten, and Matais
birthday would follow the next week.
They were talking about the good food that was usually served as
such celebrations, the sweet bread in particular, when they first heard
the sound of hooves on the path that lead South.
Oris and Matai exchanged a look and agreed instantly to go and
have a look. They had been friends for long enough that no words were
necessary.
They ran towards the centre of the village after putting their rods on
the riverbank. Oris had always been faster than Matai, in addition to
slightly being taller, and he got there first. Being young, neither of them
were winded.
They did not sense any dangers as the strangers in their white robes
rode into town. Even when they noticed that the strangers were armed,
they did not think to run. Such is the way of children who see new
things.
They must be from the army, Oris said, mirroring Matais own
thoughts. Theres supposed to be a war going on down south. I wonder
what theyre doing all the way out here?.
Matai was more quiet by nature and did not reply. It was not necessary. Oris knew he was thinking the same thing. One of the strangers
rode up next to them and blocked their path back down to the river.
He gave them a look that was strangely cold, and when he spoke his
voice was unpleasant. Into town with you boys. Right now!.
He raised a whip to show that he meant business and the two boys
both complied, having long since learned to obey adults without hesitation. Other children were being similarly herded, and people came out
onto the streets now.
One of the villagers was walking down the street extremely fast, and
Matai was surprised to see that it was Emik, the old healer.
Emik always told good stories, particularly those of the exploits of
the gods. Matai was particularly fond of the story of Nur and the turtle.

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Emik was walking quickly towards the strangers, faster than Matai
had thought she could walk. She normally walked with a cane, but she
had thrown it aside.
She called out the strangers, in a firm voice which to Matai seemed
the very image of authority. Leave! Go, go and leave here, we have
nothing for you to steal, and we have no part of your war! I know of
your deeds, and you are not welcome here.
Matai did not have time to let the words unsettle him before one
of the young men laughed and suddenly charged forward. The world
seemed to slow down before his eyes as the young stranger swung his
sword and killed the old woman who had once cured his cough. Who
told stories to the children on holy days or cold nights.
He turned to Oris and once again they were in instant agreement.
They had to get out of there, and fast. They turned to run, but the one
of the strangers who was guarding the children swung a whip at them,
which hit Oris in the shin and sent him falling towards the ground with
a whimper.
Matai might have made it, might have gotten in between two of the
houses and reached the riverbank, if he had hesitated. He hesitated
because he remembered home.
He turned to look but did not see Estin. Was she still inside cooking?
He had to warn her, he had to - But then the whip hit him as well, and
another stranger grabbed him and pushed him back int the crowd. The
stranger gave him a stern look. Dont run, you idiot! Without another
word, the stranger slapped him, hard.
Estin had only hit him once, and that one time was kind of his own
fault. Matai and Oris had been playing on the riverbank and had stared
to fight.
It had been playful at first, but then they had both gotten mad, and
Matai had swung at him, hard. As soon as he his hand connected he
regretted it, because his friend had staggered backwards and fallen into
the water. Although he was quickly brought back to shore, unarmed and
laughing madly, Estin had been furious.
Her words still rang in his ears. What were you thinking you little
fool? You could have killed him! Dont play around by the river. I have
told you once, I have told you a thousand times.
That night Matai had been forced to offer two hundred prayers to

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CHAPTER 2. YOUTH AND INNOCENCE

Nikon in repentance, and although religion normally bored him he had


taken those prayers seriously. Oris could have been really hurt, and they
never played rough near the river again.
The end result was that Matai was knocked off balance and that
thoughts of escape were forced out of his mind. For a moment, he just
felt blank. Felt only the pain where the hand had hit him. Briefly, he
felt mad. But mostly he felt scared. A stranger had come to Nolwenn
and had hit him in the face. Worse, they had killed Emik!
He almost cried, but managed to keep the tears in. The adults
couldnt just let this happen... could they? As if in answer to his
thoughts, just as another child was pushed into their huddle, a cry was
heard as several of the men who had been working the fields returned,
swinging their rakes, scythes and pitchforks.
Matai smiled. Now they would get what was coming to them, the
bastards! The people of Nolwenn were tough, hardy, and some of them
had been warriors before settling down as farmers.
It took less than a minute for his hopes to die along with the townsfolk. One man after another fell to the swords of the young men and
Matai forced himself to look away.
More screams were heard, and Matai clenched his eyes shut, promising
himself he wouldnt cry. There was more clanging of weapons, but he
didnt look. This couldnt be real. Not really real. It had to be a dream.
A bad dream.
Just as Matai had that thought, something touched his hand. He
was surprised to find that it was Oriss hand. Hand-holding was for
girls, wasnt it?
But when he opened his eyes and saw the corpses, he took his friends
hand. Holding hands was a little weird, but right now it was comforting.
He looked around and saw that Estin had come out of the house. She
would not be able to help. She was smart, really smart, and she could
sing like an angel.
But she couldnt save them. An older man emerged from amongst
the strangers and began to talk, but Matai didnt have an opportunity
to hear what he said.
As the speech started, one of the young men who had been gathering
the children together yelled. Off with you, all of you! Walk, follow
him..

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A woman in the village cried out as the children were led away. No,
Lurinka! Run, run, dont let them -. The womans death was as fast as
the others had been, and a girl who was only a little younger than Matai
screamed. Mom!.
The young stranger cared nothing for the anguish of young or old and
simply smacked the now-crying little girl, whose name was presumably
Lurinka, with a stick that he carried.
Matai had a moment to feel angry that these brutes carried sticks
specifically for beating children, but the anger was melted by despair.
The little girl cried, but she walked, as did the rest of the children.
What could they do? The strangers had swords, and they had sticks
with which they hit the children who refused to walk, or who walked too
slowly. Matai looked at Estin, who was watching the strangers, and his
heart broke.
They couldnt just take him away from her. She wasnt his mother,
not exactly, but he still loved her. She was home and she had always
been there for him. She woke him with a kiss every morning, and the
thought struck him that she might never do so again.
Now he started to cry, hating himself for being so weak, and found
that Oris was crying as well. They cried as people always do when death
hits close to home.
Death had come to Nolwenn, and it intended to stay. After a few
minutes more screams were heard from the centre of the village. A girl,
who was a little younger than Matai, yelled at one of the strangers with
a desperate voice. Who are you? Where are you taking us?
One of the strangers looked at the girl with a smile that seemed
hungry, sending a shudder down Matais spine. His voice was cruel and
unpleasant.
Were taking you home, little girl. he said. Back to our home,
where you will be taught the new ways. We are the army of the three
holies. The army that has been granted victory by the true gods. The
army that has vanquished falsehood and finally established truth throughout the empire, as we will one day establish it throughout the entire
world. The army of the Divinium - you mark that name well. Youll be
hearing it a lot.
Out of that little speech, the only thing Matai heard was that they
were being taken away. Away from their home, to some strange place.

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CHAPTER 2. YOUTH AND INNOCENCE

This... this couldnt be happening.


He squeezed Oris hand and with a small hand wave let him know
that he intended to offer up a prayer. The hand wave mimicked that used
during the weekly worships and Oris nodded solemnly, understanding.
Matai didnt know what Oris prayed for, but he imagined them similar
to his own words.
Oh Nur, Purest One, Matai mumbled. protect your children, for
they adore you. Kami, Heart of Magic, grant us a miracle from your
endless well. Here he should have kissed his fingers and touched them
to his heart, but did not, for fear of being seen.
Ruh, Master of Winds, shelter us as your blessing shelters us from
the seasons. Taklah, Mistress of the Deep, hold your hand over us as we
travel through life. At this, the prayer called for you to touch your left
shoulder as you said Ruh, and your right as you said Taklah, but Matai
did not.
Shaytur, Dread one, bring destruction upon your enemies and spare
your devotees the worst of fates. Nikon, O Silent One, do not claim us
before our time. No movements were allowed to follow these words.
Oh Six Divines, we are your children, and to you alone do we turn.
Matai bowed his head towards the East, and the eternal kingdom of the
Six.
He had learned the prayer as a child, and it was one of the few prayers
he had ever memorized. Once upon a time, he and Oris had strayed far
away from the village, and the sun had begun to set.
Estin had warned him against going anywhere near the woods at
night, and had told him that monsters lived deep in the forest. Matai
and his friend, though, had been young and brave and foolish, and they
had dared each other to go closer and closer to the wall of trees.
By then, the forest had been too dark to see into, which had only
made the game more exciting. More scary.
Until they heard the footsteps, of course. Then it stopped beinge
exciting. What had come next, Matai had never truly understood.
At first it looked almost like a deer, but as it slowly walked towards
them they saw that it had the body of a man. Its mouth was twisted in
the sort of vicious smile which would have felt unpleasant on a human
being. On the face of a deer, it looked like something out of a nightmare.

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The last detail was etched into his memory with horrifying clarity,
and it was the memory of that detail which had made Matai beg Estin
to teach him that protective prayer. The creature had been naked and
its penis had been terrible large, and fully erect.
Matai shuddered and shook off the memory. The group of children
had arrived at a small ground of carriages which the strangers had parked
just outside of town, and were now being herded into the back.
He repeated the prayer to himself again, but no miracle appeared. He
heard another scream and looked towards the river, where it had come
from.
As Matai stepped into the carriage, he looked back towards Nolwenn.
His heart was sinking, having never stopped since this all started. Where
was Estin, now? He prayed that he was safe. Nur, Kami. Ruh. Please.
Taklah, Shaytur, Nikon. Holy six. Please?
The doors closed behind him and the long darkness began.

Chapter 3

A second chance
Death? Only a temporary setback, really.
Saying attributed to the Black Emperor

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CHAPTER 3. A SECOND CHANCE

Estin woke up, and the only thing she was aware of was her right
nipple. It itched, and this itch is what brought her back to reality.
She moved her hand up to scratch it, but was disappointed by the
lack of results. Why cant I move my hands, she thought? She slowly
opened her eyes, but the world around her seem blurry and unreal.
Was that a person? Standing over her? No... leaning down over
her? Yes. They were muttering... something. She blinked and began
to regain more of her focus. Now she became aware of the pain in her
chest... where the sword had hit her. Oh god. The sword. The village...
Matai!
She tried to sit up, but was shoved back down the ground. Her eyes
finally recovered, and she saw the man standing over her, muttering silkysounding incantations in an mysterious, guteral language. He looked her
in the eyes, but showed no sign that he cared she was awake.
She laid back and tried to remember what everything that had happened. The strangers had come to the village, and they had killed most
of her neighbours. They had tried to kill her too, but clearly had not
succeeded. Whoever the man was, he was not Nikon, and this was not
the Restful Lands.
The man seemed satisfied with his work, but instead of trying to talk
to her he reached out and pinched her nipple, the same one that had
itched. She yelped in pain and then slapped away his hand. Hey! Get
your hands off of me!
The man, who was wearing dark, filthy clothing of an unfamiliar style,
simply smirked in a very self-satisfied way.
His skin was had a grey, almost ash-like quality, and his bright, green
eyes betrayed that he was not a Northerner.Oh, it worked. I guess
youre alive. Are you damaged? Try to count to ten, or something.
Her confusion kept her silent for a moment, and this is when she
became aware that she was naked. She covered her chest and felt a flare
of outrage.
The man had been staring at her! She had a strange, momentary
thought that if he was going to peep at her body, he should at least
appreciate it instead of being rude, and then felt foolish for thinking like
that.
Instead of answering him, she let her outrage ask questions of its own.
What is going on? who are you? Why am I naked?

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He laughed, a dry, scratching sound that made the stranger sound


old. Almost frighteningly old, compared to his appearance.. Well youre
naked because that made it easier to poke you with this. He smiled in
a grim way as he held up a large, jagged knife. As for the rest, look for
yourself.
Estins hands shook as she looked down to see what had once been
her chest. Where the sword had hit here, there was a great wound,
stitched together with black thread. The entire wound was covered in
a now-dried yellow slime. A number of symbols and runes were carved
into her flesh. She felt more than a little sick. Fortunately, the stranger
continued speaking, which did not allowed her to dwell on her grotesque
wound.
And what Im up to is saving your life, not that youd be grateful,
he said. But it doesnt matter anyway. He snickered. I didnt save
you for the love of the gods. Im going to question you. Hopefully I can
count on your gratitude, and we wont have to resort to any nastiness.
Estin could not make heads or tails of this situation, but she supposed
being alive was a pretty good start. She had to admit herself she was
inclined to answer his questions, considering he had apparently saved her
life.
But first, she wanted answers. She sat up and looked down at her
body, finding to her own surprise that she wasnt as bothered by her
naked chest as she should have been.
The river had claimed off her skirt, but her sex was - thank the gods
- still covered by her modesty-garb. Her shirt was torn, and this seemed
to be the handiwork of the stranger.
She began to examine the symbols and runes which had no meaning
to her, and then the stranger spoke up. His voice was distinctly proud.
Pretty cool trick, huh? Youre the first person Ive ever actually revived,
I can promise you that it hasnt been an easy trick to master. I tried
your friend over there first, but that didnt work out.
Estin didnt want to look, and in fact felt that it was a bad idea. She
turned and saw the mutilated corpse of the town baker lying next to her.
Their hands had almost touched.
This proved too much for her and she hurried to the edge of the river
where she threw up what remained of last nights dinner.
As she saw her half-digested meal float away down the river, she

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remembered that she was hungry and then immediately felt sick again.
Fortunately, there was no more to throw up, and soon she was rinsing
out her mouth.
Although she had not heard any footsteps, the stranger was standing
right next to her as he talked again. Now he sounded a little annoyed.
Look, Im sure this is all very traumatic for you whatnot, but Im working on a deadline. I really dont want to get nasty, but I will if I have to.
I dont have all that much to ask, so how about we get it over with?
Estin sat down in the mud and began to close her blouse. It was too
torn to properly close, but it did at least provide some feeling of modesty,
which made her feel more normal again. I, I dont know what you want
me to say.... She was shaken up, but her stubborn streak refused to let
her forget her important question from before. Who are you?
The man shrugged. Well that depends on who you ask, really. Its
also not important. The look in his eyes wasnt cold, but it was dangerous. Now, you will answer my questions, and no more chit-chat. What
happened? How did you die? And dont start a whole but Im not dead
thing. you were dead and I fixed it and thats the facts.
A shiver ran through Estins body. She had been dead? How was
that possible? The demanding look in the mans eyes made her realized
it was unwise to delay, and since he had least saved her she decided to
answer his questions.
Well... I was cut with a sword, but I think you know that.... She
absent-mindedly rubbed the scar, which would never fully heal. She
frowned and did her best to remember. Strangers came to our town.
Strangers clad in white. They were all young men, except for one who
was their leader. Most of them just had swords, but the older one had a
magical weapon of some sort. They talked ab-.
The man lifted up a hand to interrupt her. More about that later.
Tell me about his weapon. What did it look like, and what did it do?.
The weapon which had killed the smith was clear in her mind.
It was a small wooden handle, about this big. She gestured to
demonstrate the dimensions, about the length of her hand and width of
two of her fingers.. It might have had inscriptions or writing on it, but
Im not sure. As she spoke, she became sure. Actually, it did have an
inscription, but I didnt see what sort.
She paused and tried to get a hold of the situation. What exactly

23

was going on? Where had her wound gone?


He gestured for her to continue. Well, what did it do?
She spoke without hesitation. It created a string, like a whip, but
out of solid fire. It only appeared when it was swung. She frowned and
quickly added. He was either really good at using it, or it was enchanted
to always find its target, because he killed with... with every blow.
The memory of the death of Karnik the smith proved played in front
of her eyes, and she remember that Matai was a prisoner of the murderous
strangers, and now she started to cry.
The stranger just sighed. Look, Im sure its all very sad, but I
dont have that much to ask, could you just -. A particularly loud sob
interrupted him and Estin hated herself a little for her lack of control.
She didnt cry, not normally, but this hadnt exactly been a normal day.
The stranger decided to try another approached. He leaned down
and as soon as he got eye contact reached up and pulled off his own
face. Estin gasped as a grey skeleton became visibly underneath. She
stopped mid-sob and the stranger seem satisfied with this. To her horror
he simply slapped his face back on and pressed it into place, and with a
few touches mended the torn flesh.
The stranger smiled and talked in the sort of voice used by adults
who do not consider children to, really, be people. Now, will you please
tell me the rest of the story? There will be plenty of time for crying
later. I really dont want to hurt you, but as Ive been saying, Im in a
hurry. Theres a whole bunch of corpses in this river and I need to know
why. I need the what, who, where and why. Finish the story.
Estin did as she was told and the stranger sat down on his rump and
rubbed the chin that, apparently concealed a horrible secret. Interesting... And you say theyre Katarists?. The stranger did not look at her,
and she didnt think she was supposed to answer.
That is very interesting. I had heard of some trouble in the south,
and I had heard about the Katarists getting all uppity. But this is
new, even for that particular bunch of lunatics. But I suppose it was
inevitable. Ive read that tome of theirs and it preaches more violence
than a drunk at quitting time. Ah, well, split milk and all that.
With that, he got up and walked towards a tremendous black horse
Estin had not noticed until now. The horse seemed to her almost like
a creature of out fairy tales, wider than an ox and tall enough that she

24

CHAPTER 3. A SECOND CHANCE

thought the man would need a ladder to mount it. But he swung up
without pause, moving his body like it had no weight at all.
Before he could leave, Estin got up. Wait! Wait, please, I.... She
looked down and made sure her chest was covered. Thank you. For
my life, I mean. Can you... can you help, somehow? Help me save Ma
- I mean, my Nephew? They took him with them... the murderers, I
mean.
The man sighed. Yea, I know who you mean. And no, I cant. I have
shit to do, remember? But lets see here, I can maybe.... He reached
into one of his saddle bags and pulled out an unseemly brown rope,
throwing it in her general direction. If you dont mind second-hand and
a stab-hole or two thatll do you fine.
Estin saw, to her discomfort, that there was indeed a small hole in
the robe. Around the hole was a blood-stain. Still, some clothing was
better than no clothing, even if the robe was itchy and inappropriate for
a woman. Before the strange galloped away, she managed to ask one
last question. Who are you? Please... I want to know your name, so I
can at least offer a prayer for you. She wanted to ask what are you but
thought it would be rather rude.
The man sighed and looked into the horizon for a moment. I thought
Id made it clear I dont like to share by name, but if you insist, you can
call me Yahmak. Save your prayers, but if you ever see a wanted poster,
maybe go ahead and tear it down, eh?. Those were the last words the
stranger spoke to her before he gave his horse a gentle tab, setting it off
in an incredible, instant gallop.
Estin sat down down and cried the tears she had not cried earlier.
She cried for Nolwenn and for herself. But mostly, she cried for Matai,
and the uncertain destiny that awaited him.

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