It was the uncontrolled gasp of one who had been without breath for too long. The gasp of the dead returning to life, his heart pounding, his eyes opening wide. It was a terrifying, yet exhilarating feeling. Around him floated the serene sounds of his Seventh Temple of Reincarnation.
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Those who did, however, took advantage. He was flanked on one side by a daeril, a hulking creature that only shallowly resembled a man.
Daerils came in many types, but this one had deep violet skin and arms as thick as tree trunks. It will be good for you to have a leader who is more local.
They worked themselves ragged to meet quota, and were bullied into giving up almost everything they had for the tax collectors. Members of the crowd grumbled, but what could they say? A stranger stepped up to the edge of the crowd. Only stumps remained of many of the gargantuan rock formations, however. A hundred enormous chains hung down from the cavern roof, their tops bolted to the stone.
The location of buildings in the town shifted month by month, moving out from beneath where the miners worked. Even still, most people—men, women, and children—wore a helm to protect them from falling bits of rock. The townspeople stilled. To disobey the God King was death.
Some people gave him looks, trying to peer at his face, which was lost in the cowl of his deep hood. Most dismissed him, assuming he was one of those who had come with Weallix. They got out of his way as he walked toward the center of the crowd, where the publican continued explaining his new rules for the town. He passed one of the thick chains and hesitated, reaching out and resting his fingers on it.
Woven into that chain were ribbons of blue, remnants from the festival that had occurred here a week before. Fallen flower petals—now wilted—still lurked in some cracks and corners. Some of the buildings had even been repainted. All for the Feast of the Sacrifice, a day that came only once every two decades. He pointed toward the front of the crowd, to the man who had asked the question earlier.
He waved curtly. You will remember to whom you belong. There was variety to the inhuman monsters in skin, shape, and color, some with claws, others with eyes that burned. They shoved among the people, grabbing young women from their families—including the daughter of the outspoken man. The townspeople, the daerils, and Weallix all seemed to notice the stranger for the first time. People pulled back from him in a ring. Then they saw the sword. Long and smooth at the sides, with a distinctive set of three holes in its center.
A symbol of power, of authority, and of rulership. The daeril was so surprised that it could do nothing but gape as the stranger spun the weapon and impaled the creature through the throat. The stranger moved in an eyeblink, ripping the sword free and dashing forward, cloak trailing behind him. He grabbed one of the chains, moving with practiced familiarity, and swung on it. He swept to a pair of daerils who were towing a young woman toward the stage.
The two fell easily. The stranger left them gurgling in their own blood. Weallix started yelling, calling for his soldiers. He raved and ranted, pointing. Then he cut off, stumbling back as the stranger grabbed a chain and pushed forward, swinging up and landing with a thump on the wagons.
The daeril looked with befuddlement at the stump of his mace. The head thumped to the floor of the cart. Weallix tried to leap from the cart, but fell to his knees as the vehicle shook. As he rose, he found the blade at his neck. Stand back! He waited as the monsters retreated to the edge of the clustered townsfolk. Never return. The cavern fell silent. The stranger finally reached up and peeled his helm from his head, exposing sweaty, brown-blonde hair and a youthful face.
The Sacrifice. The man who had been sent to die.
Siris sat quietly, holding a small bowl of soup in one hand. Fenweed, a very healthy soup. It tasted like dishwater. For living, I mean?
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