She was a soldier, a warrior of the gods; chosen to help eradicate the blemish of the Saharians. Her sacred duty was to rid the earth of those who refused the teachings of Helerian; who persisted in spreading heresy and corruption into the civilized world. With their strange eight-legged deity, the Saharians were surely the spawn of the underworld. And she had no qualms sending them back where they belonged.
Her horse danced under her, its gray coat shimmering in silver ripples of anticipation. She held the high-strung Arabian in place with impatient hands, waiting for the order to descend on this village of the enemy. With one hand, she adjusted the fabric that wrapped around her head and face. The robes of a crusader were a beautiful thing. Comfortable without being constraining, the sand colored fabric allowed her to blend with her surroundings and fulfill her divine destiny.
Finally, Devriath raised his sword, glinting light to the waiting soldiers in a signal that would end the lives of many. She ground her knees into her horse’s sides and the animal bolted forward. The dull thud of hooves against the sand was the only warning the condemned villagers would have before the crusaders fell on them like a dust storm.
Screams rose into the heat of the desert as the first Saharians fell. She drew her weapon in anticipation, a smaller, curved blade that mimicked the wicked smile of a young moon. Without slowing, she galloped through the streets of the village, slashing her way through anything or anyone in her path.
Suddenly her horse stopped short, rearing with a shrill cry of fear as one of the villagers waved a torch in front of its face, the orange flames licking hungrily toward the velvety muzzle. She tried to keep the panicked animal from losing its senses, but instinct won over loyalty. She jumped from the saddle as the Arabian spun and bolted, its raised tail flowing behind it like a flag of surrender.
Rolling to her feet, she advanced on the man with the torch. She could see his fear in the quiver of the flame, but she didn’t care. He was one of them. He had to die. Calmly, she brought the steel of her blade slashing across the man’s chest in an elegant spin any Scarf Dancer would envy.
“Murderer!” a child’s voice screamed behind her. She stopped, stiffening. She’d been called many things in her career of death, but there was something different about this taunt.
Turning, she saw a woman run forward, clutching the small boy to her and trying valiantly to pull him out of danger.
“Why? What did he do to you?” he cried, his blue eyes accusing through the welling tears as he rigidly ignored his mother’s efforts.
His voice pierced her emotional armor as surely as an arrow does skin. He spoke with the same cadences she did, not the foreign accent she had been expecting. Horror filled her, truth dawning like a sunrise, as she stared into those small, fierce eyes. They were blue…Blue! Not the sand color of the Saharians. This boy was Theinan–one of her own people!
Stricken, she looked at the mother and was met with a pair of fearful green eyes; Theinan eyes. Gasping as the air suddenly grew thin, she swept her gaze over the chaos, and for the first time in a long time, really saw what was happening. None of the villagers trying desperately to defend themselves were Saharian. The crusaders were slaughtering their own kind!
She staggered back against the nearest wall, bracing herself against its solidarity. This was wrong! Why were they attacking their own? Crumbling as surely as her conviction, she folded in on herself, covering her face with her hands. The scimitar thumped against the ground, forgotten. This couldn’t be happening. She must be mistaken! There was no way the church would condone this—killing was strictly prohibited in the great Book of Truth, especially the butchering of decent, devout people!
But when she forced her eyes open again, the scene was the same. Unsuspecting Theinan citizens were falling like fragile saplings against a strong wind, their lives taken for an unknown reason. This went against everything she believed in, and she knew the gods would be displeased.
She watched the melee for what felt like eons, the slaughter unfolding before her in slow motion. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do. This couldn’t continue, but how could she possibly stop something as inexorable as an avalanche? Shaking off her lethargy, she let instinct guide her.
Picking up her discarded weapon, she threw herself toward the nearest crusader, stepping between his falling blade and the intended victim. Metal sparked as it clashed with squealing protest. The hazel eyes of her fellow soldier widened in shock and confusion, but she moved before she had a chance to change her mind. Her blade bit into his sand colored robes, staining them a dark red as his life ran from his body.
“Helerian, forgive me,” she murmured, turning away. The man he had been attacking shuddered before her. A flicker of hesitation dawned as what he had witnessed sank in, and she saw gratitude and uncertainty flood across his features. Quickly, he scrambled away, retreating into the recesses of one of the huts. She wasn’t sure if he would find safety there for long, but he wasn’t her concern anymore. She needed to find Devriath and get him to sound the order to fall back before every one of them was condemned to the underworld.
Her glance flickered to the body of the soldier and she felt the pang of remorse. She wouldn’t have time to reason with every one of her comrades, and most were so stubbornly ingrained with doctrine that few would even pause to listen. She would be deemed a traitor in a matter of seconds—one of the Lost, condemned to instant death without hope of salvation. It was either her, or them. Her one chance to escape with her robes intact was to find Devriath. And find him fast.
She prayed that she would be able to convince him as she ran toward the focal point of the battle, the screams and clash of weaponry rising to a near deafening pitch as she drew closer. Devriath would be in the middle of the chaos. He always was. Like the core of a fire, he never failed to be at the heart of the most intense battles.
She scanned the crowd, searching for the shining double blades of their leader. As she had expected, she glimpsed him at the dead center of the throng, his swords glimmering like deadly liquid. Taking a deep breath, she threw herself into the fray, hoping vaguely that she could reach Devriath without having to murder too many more of the crusaders.
She darted beneath the blades of friend and foe alike; an avenging angel moving toward the heart of the conflict. She had already butchered three more of her fellow soldiers, saving two families and one lone woman, when she was suddenly tackled to the ground. Snarling, she rolled with her attacker into the shadowed recesses of an alley, away from the heat of battle.
Her breath slammed out of her as she was roughly pinned to the ground beneath her assailant. She tried to bring her blade up and felt it deftly stripped from her by a booted foot. Her hands were forced into the sand near her head with such strength she felt the tiny granules embed themselves in her knuckles.
“Enough!” he growled. “Constia, what are you doing?”
The familiar tones brought her gaze to meet the silver stare of the man above her. She didn’t need to see the rest of his face to know him, or to tell that he was furious. Shock, confusion and rage warred within his eyes and silently demanded an explanation.
“Let me up!” she spat, struggling against the weight of battle-toned muscle.
“Not until you explain what’s going on,” he answered, silver eyes glinting dangerously. “Have you completely lost your mind?”
“How can you sit here calmly, when innocent people are being murdered?” she challenged.
“I’m not! You’re not out there anymore, are you?”
“No, not the crusaders, the villagers!” She felt a satisfied flush as his eyes clouded with confusion. “Or didn’t you realize that?”
“What, in Helerian’s name, are you talking about?” He sat back on his haunches, letting go of her arms, but still holding her pinned with his legs.
“Look behind you Bannar, none of those people are Saharian. We’re killing our own!” When he shifted to look over his shoulder at the fighting, she tried to regain her scimitar, her fingers creeping stealthily toward the vicious blade. Without looking, his hand shot out, covering the blade and holding it pinned as surely as his body did hers. Frustrated, Constia slammed her fist into the sand and settled for glaring up at the man who had once been her friend and lover.
“I don’t understand, Constia,” he said, turning back to her, “One minute you’re with us, and the next thing I know, you’re attacking another crusader. One of your friends! Why would you do that?”
“How can you not see what’s happening? These villagers have done nothing wrong; they’re Theinan for Helerian’s sake!” Now it was her turn to feel confused. Why wasn’t he understanding? While they were arguing, more Theinan citizens were being murdered!
“I know,” he murmured, a pained look bringing his brows together and his shoulders slumping. Constia felt shock crush her and she stared in horror at the stranger above her.
“You know? Why aren’t you trying to stop it then?” Her mind whirled as she tried to make sense of what was happening. A cold pit of foreboding settled in her stomach like a bad meal and she knew she wasn’t going to like what she was about to hear.
He looked at her with pitying gray eyes. “I’m doing what I was ordered to. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, Constia. Surely you realized that?”
“No! What are you talking about? Those others were Saharian; I would never have killed our own people willingly!” She shook her head vehemently, denying his words with every shred of her being.
“There are no Saharians, Constia, not anymore. They were a race that died out long before we got here. The Church uses them as an excuse; a way to condemn those that aren’t loyal enough, a way to instill fear in the rest of us,” he explained softly, his voice gentle and filled with pain.
“But, that’s political,” she said, looking up at him with questioning eyes. He simply nodded and she felt tears begin to swell as betrayal set in. She had been used; her faith had been corrupted. Her chest felt like it had been cleaved with a sword, all her nerves raw and her spirit shriveling in despair. How could she have been so blind? So stupid?
She closed her eyes and turned her head into the sand, feeling anguish wash over her like a scalding bath. Bannar released her then, kicking the fallen scimitar well out of easy reach as he moved a few feet away, watching intently. But she had lost her desire to move, her limbs numb and cold with defeat. What was she supposed to do now?
Everything she had believed, everything she had done, was all a lie!
“Constia?” The soft query barely managed to break through her haze of self-pity. “I’m sorry, Constia. I thought you knew. We all did.”
That last sentence dispelled her anguish like a fog in a swift wind and she felt rage raise its hackles, its teeth bared to kill. Her eyes snapped open, their chocolate depths flashing with hate. Bannar tensed, his hand straying to the dagger at his side.
“You all knew? Every last one of you?” she asked coldly. He nodded. “Then you’re no better than them. You all deserve to die! You’ve condemned us to the underworld, and you don’t even care!” She rose and brushed the sand from her clothes with tense motions that spoke volumes to her agitation.
“If none of you will set things right, then I will,” she declared, “Just answer one more thing, if there are no Saharians, then how do you explain the people we’ve fought? The ones with a different language and different coloring?” She glared at him, waiting to hear what twisted version of the truth he was about to expel.
“They are of Saharian blood, but they are also Theinan. Ages ago, the two races merged. The people in this southern region have kept more of their original language, and the genes are stronger here than they are in the north. But there are people of Saharian descent everywhere,” he explained, his eyes narrowing before he added, “The color of your eyes hints that even you possess some.”
“Lies!” she screeched, lunging at him in blind fury. She had no weapon, but she would make him pay for even suggesting that she was Saharian. He evaded her attack easily, capturing her flailing arms behind her back, his knife blade resting lightly against her throat. Refusing to accept defeat, she struggled, trying to kick him. They danced awkwardly, her kicking like a donkey while he easily avoided the expected blows. He had always been able to read her too easily, always besting her in sparring matches. Finally, he brought the knife more firmly against her skin, the sharp edge lacerating her neck just enough to subdue her.
“That’s better,” he mumbled behind her. Her chest heaved with anger and adrenaline, but she stayed still.
“Well, what am I going to do with you? Obviously, you are Graell-bent on killing everyone around you, so letting you go isn’t an option…” he trailed off, and she waited, eyes narrowing. All she needed was an opportunity. The history between them no longer mattered. He was corrupt and she would kill him as surely as she would have a Saharian.
Without warning, she felt him grab the bottom of the fabric that covered her face. He wouldn’t, she thought. With a dancer’s grace, he twirled her away from him, the fabric that had protected her identity unraveling and leaving her exposed. She screamed in outrage, turning to face him, her dark hair swirling around her in exuberant freedom.
He stood there, holding the strip of fabric in one hand, the dagger in the other. For a moment, she saw the old look of desire infused affection light his eyes, replaced quickly by a sadness she didn’t understand.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Constia,” he said, advancing slowly toward her, “But I can’t let you go either. So here’s what we’re going to do; I’m going to use this to bind you. I’ll leave you here in the safety of the shadows and go get Devriath for you. If you believe you can convince him of the error of his ways, then be my guest. But I can’t let you murder any more of our friends. Fair?” He waited, holding the fabric ready, his eyes searching hers for the resistance she knew he expected.
Instead, she aqueisced, nodding once and holding her wrists out to be tied. Warily, he began to bind her, his hands hesitantly winding the fabric around her. She remained compliant and in a matter of seconds he had securely bound her to the lintel of the door behind her. Apparently satisfied that there was no possible way she could cause damage to herself or anyone else, Bannar turned to leave.
“I’ll be back as soon as possible,” he said before disappearing into the melee. Constia sat, her limbs constrained by the very fabric she had once found so freeing. Wearily, she let her head droop and her mind wrestle with the overwhelming truth that had finally been revealed to her.
~© Copyright Kisa Whipkey 2009~
All Rights Reserved