fourth chapterEdit

Amaranth to the Fire

A sentry dressed in dark green armor stood at the inner gate of the Mur’tombi’kaam prison at border the somewhere between Dassinth and Sycracia. Rain was pouring as hard as it could be over the prison’s open-air rooftop. Peering into the distance, he could see a familiar sight—an immense black horse with a wooden box-throne on its back. There sat a man in black armor, and behind him, there was a lady wearing a crimson-colored coat.

“Another sorcerer I see,” the sentry snorted, chuckling derisively.

The man in black armor said nothing. He threw the lady off the horse, and she landed in the thick mud in front of the prison.

Tarja felt herself being hoisted with a rope, and then dragged across a disgusting muddy turf. The dark violet coat over her leather clothes became wet and thick with grime. Yet her half-consciousness could not let her do anything that the rope was already hindering her from doing. Her pale ice-green eyes rolled over in her head—she could see a tall gray building, devoid of happiness.

Her world became a living void of darkness.

She fell unconscious once more.

When Tarja awoke next, there were bars. Tall metal bars that looked as cold as the floors felt. She felt damp and, for the first time in a long time, afraid. What was this place? Who brought her there...and what were they going to do?

“You,” whispered a voice next to her. Tarja backed up to the corner of the cell, afraid of where the voice was coming from.

“Who are you?” Tarja demanded, trying to conceal the fear rattling in her voice.

“No, no, don’t worry,” the voice said in a pacifying manner. “I’m not trying to harm you.”

“How can I be sure?” Tarja demanded. Her voice was starting to lose conviction of her ending up alive.

“Because I’ve been hurt before here,” the voice said in a warm, assuring tone. “I don’t want it to happen to you, what with you being a sorcerer and all.”

“How can you tell?”

“I can tell from those beads on your arms and that purple robe of yours.” Tarja immediately stood, trying to fit herself into a corner.

“You can see me?” she cried, half-surprised and half-violated. She heard a rumbling noise coming from the far side of her cell. On that side, the ground nearest a crack in the wall began to loosen. Finally, all of the dirt broke from the surface and tumbled down. A hand shot from the dirt. Tarja aimed her finger at it.

“Sitta,” Tarja chanted, expecting to see a bolt of flames shoot at the hand. Nothing happened.

“What is this place?” she whispered to herself, shaking with fear.

“What... who are you?” Garril called into the void before him. He knew something was there; he could feel it watching him with its single bottomless eye. It was not a malicious presence, however. Garril felt at home; at peace.

“Would you like to be home, Garril?” it asked in a hollow voice, rattling with many whispers.

“Yes!” Garril replied with strange enthusiasm. “Take me home, please...” The void lurched suddenly, and everything warped. A moment later he found himself on the cobbled streets of Elvinia. Garril knew this place, yes. It was the street that Shalea’s shop was on. He ran down the street and rounded the corner—and sure enough, there they were.

“Father...mother...” Garril said in a choked voice. They simply smiled and held their arms open. His father was not old and frail and dying; his mother was not moon eyed and ghostly. They were happy, almost glowing. Garril let them enclose him in their embrace and closed his eyes.

“You fool!” a familiar voice rang, full of spite. A looming figure came out of a side street, and suddenly the air became hazy. Gloom took over the sky—it became an ugly hybrid blue and purple mix. It was hard to breathe.

“Syrregain?” Garril asked. “What are you doing here?”

“You stupid moron!” Syrregain continued. “Mother and father are dead!”

“No!” Garril protested, struggling against his parents’ embrace; it became tighter and tighter by the second. “Hey, let me go...” He looked up—into the face of a rotting skull with melting green eyes. Hints of what was once a beard clung to its mandible.

“Daddy loves you,” it said in a malicious voice.

Garril found himself in a new place, shaken awake after that horrible dream. He was in a bed that really was only straw with a sheet on it. There was a high window above him, and through came only little light. Whatever he was in, it smelled like a pack of cows.

He huddled his knees to his chin and held them tight with his arms. He could not believe that so horrible a dream could have happened again. Really, he did not know what to believe in anymore. Surely both his parents could not be dead. His father was, certainly—he had even seen him die; his mother, however... Surely she could not have died. His dream lied.

Garril looked around. The smells; the sight; everything reminded him of Tarja’s barn. Tarja...

Soon enough, last night sporadically returned to him. What happened to her? Had Tarja died too? He remembered the gigantic horse and the terrible knight in black. He remembered Tarja’s capture; the way she dangled helplessly in midair that way.

“Solnel?” he called, remembering who was with him. There came no reply. He looked around—the place looked almost exactly like Tarja’s barn. Was he back home? He heard some chatter coming from somewhere behind him. Was Tarja back home with him?

“Tarja, are you there?” he called. There was a muffled response. Maybe it really was her!

Garril slid slowly off the pile of straw—and felt pain. Resonant waves of pain shot through his leg and all around. He could not help but cry aloud. His scream was loud throughout the barn. It caused surprised chatter to erupt behind the door nearest him. Solnel and a rather voluptuous lady he did not know broke through.

“Oh Lord,” Solnel sighed in a half exasperated voice. Garril rocked on the spot, hissing and crying with pain. He clutched at his wounded leg.

“Tarja,” he wailed. “Where is Tarja?” When the burly lady tried to lift him in her decidedly large arms, Garril squirmed away.

“Where is Tarja?” he cried, half screaming. Solnel flinched back.

“Tarja isn’t here,” he said to him. Garril’s worried gasping-breaths started to fade into slower, calmer breaths. His breathing soon became a low, relaxed cadence. Solnel and the lady holding Garril exchanged confused and worried glances. Between them, there erupted the soft sound of snoring.

“He’s asleep...” Solnel sighed. The lady picked him and started to carry him outside the room, to where other women like her were working. She vanished behind the door, a sleeping boy with a half-broken leg in her arms.

Solnel followed suit, wondering just how he would explain to him what had happened to Tarja if he didn’t remember.

“, calm down,” the voice still whispered to Tarja. “It’s all right...” Tarja still was in her corner, shivering and desperately trying to conjure a bolt to fire to aim at the hand gradually becoming more and more visible as it protruded from the dirty floor.

Soon, a head was totally visible. It was a lady, with scratchy crimson hair and sullied skin. She soon came out of the dirt completely, covered in dark earth. She was rather short for whatever age Tarja guessed she was. The lady was dressed in a long raggedy brown and green tunic that reached past her knees, and she had no pants.

Tarja decided she looked reliable enough. She eventually came out of her corner, with her finger lowered.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I am Elinan,” the lady responded. Elinan sat down, cross-legged next to the hole she came out of. Tarja did the same.

“Just where am I?” Tarja asked Elinan.

“You are in Mur’tombi’kaam—this is a prison.”

“But I haven’t done wrong.”

“The same goes for many of us here. Under the regime of that Elvin king, many innocents have been put here.”

Letorry? Did Elinan mean Letorry was the one who put people in this frozen hell? Tarja knew Letorry; he would never do that kind of thing. Letorry despised being king enough as it is, so why would he exploit power that way?

“Surely you don’t mean King Letorry,” Tarja gasped. Elinan gave her a strange, vexed look.

“Letorry?” she whispered, as if choking back pain-wracked tears. “Letorry is dead.” Tarja was blindsided.

“No...that’s not right...” she mumbled. “He can’t be dead.” Tarja’s fingers started to fumble and fiddle in a strange, skittish manner. A tear seemed to slide from Elinan’s eyelid. Tarja’s fingers continued to fidget and squirm, until—


A blinding flash, followed suit by an angry explosion erupted within Tarja’s cell and all throughout the prison. The metal bars of the cell caught fire. Tarja and Elinan, coughing to purge the smoke from their lungs, were covered in blackness.

“What’s going on here?!” called an angry guard. He came by; he was a rotund man with an ugly, dangerous face. He carried a bucket of water in his hand, and he tossed it at the flaming bars. They sizzled and died down, hissing angrily.

“I can explain,” Tarja mumbled. “Elinan and I...”

Tarja looked back to find Elinan—she was not there. A confused mumble escaped her mouth.

Without warning, the fat guard threw frozen cold water at Tarja. It swept over her like a frigid tidal wave, chilling her bones. She sputtered, surprised and angry.

“That’ll teach ya,” he snorted. From the prison cells all around, there came a derisive jeer from everybody, scathing her. It came in from all directions, coming in through the walls, hissing into her ears. Where did Elinan go?

She abandoned me, Tarja decided. Ignoring the frozen cold on and within her, Tarja fell onto the now-wet soil and closed her eyes. She fell asleep amongst the angry jeering, and let the world vanished under a black hazy deluge.

For as long as Ardray had been at the Stravitari church, she’d never really found anything even remotely interesting to do. Sure, she never expected the life of a monk to be interesting. But surely, there was something out there that was more interesting than watching the leaves flutter by.

Of course, Ardray found something to do for a while that drowned away the spiraling madness of boredom she fell into each day.

At midnight each night, she would take a single amaranth from the garden and enchant its petals with the force of fire. It made a beautiful crimson light, and it never burned the flower. But that rather bored her soon enough. Making flowers glow just was not enough for her. Soon, Ardray found her bored days gravitating toward her studies of the elements, and sorcery. It was forbidden by the church to learn of sorcery, so Ardray had to practice in secrecy. She found herself with having a strange liking for flames and bright fires and the like. It was as if she had an affinity to them.

And today, she found herself sitting next to the nephew of a Tulla sorceress. He was slouching in a chair, staring absentmindedly at a fruit bowl. What an opportunity! To learn of sorcery, straight from the sorcerer-kin’s mouth! Ardray nudged him softly, trying to lift him from his torpor.

“Hey,” she whispered. “Hey.” Ardray poked his arm. “He-e-e-e-e-e-y.”

He simply grunted and paid no attention to her. Ardray scrunched her eyebrows together.

“WAKE UP!” she shouted, and she shoved him off his chair.

He landed with a sound THUD, and followed with an angry scream. All the surrounding nuns and monks covered their ears.

“Ardray!” they scolded her angrily. Ardray giggled a little bit at the boy’s pain. The nuns rushed to him, making ugly noises of sympathy.

“Ardray, can’t you see the boy is in pain?” Yubaga, an old nun, hissed at her.

“No,” she replied brightly. Yubaga sighed and helped the boy back on his chair. He was fully awake now, still hissing in mild pain.

“What was that for?” he hissed lowly at her. Ardray smirked.

“You were asleep. I needed to wake you somehow.”

“Somehow?! You could have just shaken me!”

“Yes but pushing is far more fun.”

Garril frowned at her, and reached for an apple on a bowl across the table. He raised the thing to his lips, and frowned once more at Ardray. She sighed and smiled, almost brainlessly. He cast a quick glance at her.

“What are you staring at?” he mumbled.

Ardray shook her head quickly. “No reason.” Garril chomped at his apple quickly, facing away from her. For a while, he sat in his chair just eating the apple. He was staring at a counter right next to Solnel. Solnel was leaned against it—talking leisurely with one of the nuns. The nun herself did not seem to be so pleased to talk to him.

“...and anyway, the horse itself looked complete unrealistic, like it was just a big black horse, it was so unbelievably big—“

“That’s very interesting, Solnel,” the nun said in a bored, tired voice; “but I have important things to do.” She turned back to a deep tub of water and continued to scrub hard brown soap and ratty clothes together.

“But this is interesting,” protested Solnel.

“Yes, but—”

“And it was just shooting down the road toward us, and then, there was a man, he was sitting on top of the horse and he just picked her up and went down the road. It was the strangest thing I’ve seen my whole life!”

The nun sighed dejectedly, and without so much as a word, turned back to scrubbing the dirty rags of clothes.

Garril went back to eating the apple. Out of curiosity, he turned his eyes to Ardray. She was staring directly at him.

“What do you want?” he burst out, and stormed off. He left his half eaten apple sitting idly on the table. Ardray watched him go upstairs, and heard a door slam.

“You’ve angered the boy,” one nun told her. Ardray sighed.

“He’s delicious when he’s angry.” The nun shook her head and reached for the apple on the table. Ardray quickly smacked her hand away. She grabbed the apple and held it closed to her chest.

“It’s a reminder of him!” Ardray hissed, and followed Garril up the stairs.

“That girl is so in love,” one nun gushed. The nun grabbed an old blanket and began dancing around the kitchen with it. “I wish I had love, like Ardray does.” All of the other nuns giggled, as did Solnel.

“Hush on you, Tosam,” Yubaga hissed. “You’re a man. Can’t you accept the fact that no other man would want to be with you?”

Tosam leered at the old lady like a hawk.

“Well!” he humphed. “At least I’m not too old to find love—like you!”

All of the other nuns were in a bereft, stunned silence. Their eyes were wide as they stared at him, as was their mouths. Yubaga’s eyes had a transcended kind of fury to them. Solnel, however, had a wide grin sitting right on his face—beaming at Tosam.

“Yubaga, I can never accept what you so ruefully suggested.”

With that, Tosam made a dramatic sweeping motion and exited the cabin—seemingly, for good.

It left Yubaga, Solnel and the other nuns in disbelieved shock. After an overbearing silence, Solnel finally spoke.

“Was that man for real?” he gasped. Yubaga shook his head.

“No, boy, that man is indeed a lady. He is a lady inside a man’s body.” The old lady took a seat, her ancient bones creaking. “How else would a man love another man that way?” The other nuns returned to their work, and Solnel went up the stairs, most likely to find Garril and Ardray.

Solnel found Garril in a room, reclining in a small bed next to a larger bookshelf. He was reading a book bound in black leather. It was then that Solnel realized that his friend of a mere few hours was no idle reader. Garril concentrated on reading that book; devouring every single word and letter printed on the page.

“There you are,” Solnel said. Garril only grunted in reply. He really must have been entranced by that book!

Outside, there was a high bush of amaranths sitting atop a cliff. Opening the window, Solnel reached for one, and immediately he heard a rustle coming from behind him. Nearly losing the flower to a drop that was at least a story high, he whirled around.

“Who’s there?” he asked. All the rustling stopped. With the amaranth still in hand, Solnel stood from his place at the foot of Garril’s bed. He strode over to a nearby closet where the noise came from.

“So there you are,” she chuckled, smiling when he found Ardray sitting at the back of the closet. He held out his hand for her to come out of it. Ardray scoffed, and she took his outstretched hand. The dull sound of a wet ball resounded, and then a half-eaten apple rolled out from the closet.

“You, Ardray,” Solnel said in an almost sultry manner; “are a flirty child.” He placed the amaranth in her hair. She scoffed again, and threw her lusty stare at Garril. His nose was buried between the pages, and he was concentrating; eyebrows scrunched in the middle.

“It isn’t my fault—what’s his name?”


“It isn’t my fault Garril is so...striking!” Ardray whispered, with the amaranth held close to her chest.

“I heard my name!” Garril called, making Ardray suddenly freeze in place. Solnel could not help but giggle at the sight of her.

“No you didn’t!” Ardray called back. She grabbed Solnel’s arm, and rather forcibly, she dragged him outside into the hall. “Is he not the most attractive thing you’ve seen?” she whispered.

“Men are not the kind of people I go after,” Solnel muttered, dusting off his arm.

“Well, Garril can make even right men go the other way.” Ardray sighed rather lasciviously, and opened the door again. Garril was still completely immersed in that black leather book. Slowly on silent feet, Ardray padded over to him and dropped the amaranth right into the book.

“Was that an amaranth?” Garril sniffled. Solnel laughed at the suddenly sickened sight of him. He bent by his bedside and picked up the ruined flower.

“Yes it was,” Solnel discarded the flower out the open window.

“It was from me, my lo—” Ardray started, but faltered. Garril looked at her questioningly, with one eyebrow raised. My Lord, he is beautiful that way, Ardray decided conscientiously. Inside she gushed and giggled.

“I’m allergic to amaranths,“ Garril told her and he pouted. He slid out of bed and started to walk out the door; wearing only his unmentionables.

Ardray gaped at him, as if she was enraged, but the mischievous glimmer that went over her eyes betrayed her.

“ Lord!” she sang, as if in heavenly praise. As soon as he closed the door to the room, Ardray squealed in a high-pitched voice and turned back to Solnel, quite literally falling on him, with her face buried in her fists.

“He—he—!” Ardray was in outrageous laughter.

“Yes, I see why you find him nice,” Solnel muttered with a dripping sarcasm. Ardray pushed off him—so hard that he fell on the floor.

“Hey!—” Solnel started, but Ardray skipped away merrily, chanting a happy song as she went along. He sighed, and watched her follow him across the hallway. “Women!” he said in a exasperated tone, and rolled his eyes heavenward.

Solnel took one look at the ruffled bed Garril was in, and then the book in black leather resting carelessly in atop the pile of layered sheets. Curiously, he lifted and opened the book.

“‘And so, my child, shall thou become Keeper of the people of my forest,’ and he...” Solnel read aloud, frowning with every line he skimmed. “This book is utter drivel!” He tossed back into the half-empty bookshelf, and went back out the room to find something else to fit his amusements.

Meanwhile, Garril was in the garden outside, in the area near the baths. If he could not sleep without being interrupted, then he may as well have himself cleaned up. As he tentatively dipped a toe into the water, he decided it was a bit too cold.

“This isn’t right,” he muttered, creasing his brow. He trained his light green eyes on the rippling surface, dappled in sunlight. A sudden clenching in the back of his mind suddenly forced him to touch the unbroken surface. All at once, the clenching stopped, and the water became much warmer—so warm in fact, that it started to steam. Pleased, he lowered himself into the enormous cistern.

“Ah...” he sighed at the feeling of the ebbing and flowing of water over his legs. That day was much more peaceful than last night was.

Last night he felt as if it was the end of all hope—as if everything meaningful had been ripped from his grasp a second time. He felt worse than he ever could have felt. For all anybody knew—and evidently, not many knew—that previous night was even worse than Elvinia, three years ago, at the capital. Garril wanted to take that, and last night, and lock it away forever. In a dark chest deep under the sea, where infinite darkness resided.

“Good day for a bath!”

A sudden bright voice made Garril jump abruptly, almost out of the enormous cistern. He looked up, and there was someone standing there.

This someone was a young man, probably about Garril’s age or older by a bit. This young man was most likely of both Sycracian and Gerodathian descent. Garril deducted that from his flaming red hair and curious blue eyes, which had a narrowing slant to them. Surprisingly, he was sleekly muscled—about as muscled somebody as thin as him could be.

“You scared me,” Garril sighed to him.

“I am truly sorry,” he said in a voice that had genuine mirth. The young man then leaned over and fell into the tub with Garril, and in an easygoing manner, his head floated about the surface. Garril could not help but laugh a little at the way he looked.

“Glad I made someone laugh today,” he said with a smile. “By the way, I’m Rhylor.”

“I’m Garril.”

“Pleased to meet you, Garril.” Rhylor floated slowly up until his entire upper body was above the dappled surface. He pulled slowly at his long orange hair, smoothing out the tight knots. “So, what brings you to this church, out of all places?” Rhylor asked, peering up from under his bright mop.

“No reason,” Garril said to conceal the burning hate rattling in his voice. Rhylor nodded slowly, tugging at his hair more.

“I wonder why anybody would come here,” he said a little distastefully. “Nothing at all to do in this place. Not even the nuns are all that entertaining. And I think Elsa and Melva, they’re the cooks by the way; I think they hate me.”

“Oh?” Garril chuckled. “And why is that?”

Rhylor shook his head. “I think they’re the type of people who’ll hate you for no real reason.” He sighed and leaned back, resting his head on his elbows. “Only thing to do around here is to read those dusty old books or something,” he continued. Suddenly, Garril was reminded of that book bound in black letter and gold lettering.

“Have you ever read a book,” Garril started; “called ‘The Sorcery of Lithium Edge and Lacrymosa’?”

“I may have,” Rhylor replied, looking skyward as if thinking. “Why? Did you read it?”

“Yes I did, actually. It was...strange.”

“A lot of the books out there are strange, my friend. One with ‘sorcery’ in the title probably is just one notch under ‘ravings of a madman’.”

“Maybe...” Garril leaned back against the edge of the tub, a little into the treniestle bush behind him. Rhylor remained silent for a while, as Garril drifted idly in the water. He could feel the heady aroma of the treniestle sticking to his skin, and he almost unconsciously poured water over his head to remove the odd sticking feeling.

“Wait,” Rhylor said suddenly, snapping to an upright position. “I do believe I’ve read such a book. It was maybe two years ago, I think, and I must have been very bored because there was nothing else to do and I can’t read very well. Anyway, I went up to that room upstairs and found it was the only book on the bookshelf, so I started to read it. Very crazy things are described in that book; about some sword that isn’t really a sword and them some other wicked thing that opposes it—”

“Did you say it wasn’t really a sword?” Garril asked, remembering the massive old tome Tarja had shown him three years ago.

“The book did, not me,” Rhylor corrected. “It’s apparently a form of energy that takes the form of whatever whoever thinks it is. Sometimes it’s a sword, sometimes it’s a bow and arrow; it could even be a peach for all anyone knows. But every book on that specific entity all say it’s alive.”

“Alive?” Garril sputtered. “How can a sword or bow or peach be alive?”

“Beats me,” the other boy replied a bit negligently, drifting in the water. Curiously, instead of returning to his relaxed leaning position, he sat straight and stilly, and looked directly into Garril’s light green eyes.

“You’re lying,” he said at last, smiling mischievously.

“What?” Garril demanded, nearly shouting. He absolutely despised when people told him he was doing something he was not: a trait inherited from his shrewd father.

“There is a reason you’re here,” Rhylor replied calmly. “I know you and your friend aren’t here to pay a social call.”

“All right,” Garril conceded in a grimmer tone. “There was an accident last night, on the Caspedile Road.

“Was there?” Rhylor gasped.

“Yes. A man in black armor on an enormous black horse came and took my aunt away.”

“How dreadful!” Rhylor gave one last tug on his hair, finally releasing a rebellious lock. Garril looked at the spindly thing, floating like a dead spider. Rhylor threw him an impish grin. “Sorry about that,” he said. Garril laughed shortly, and then gave a heavyhearted sigh.

“I had a sword,” he murmured. “I should have tried to save her. But I couldn’t. I was too afraid...” Failing to let his head fall into his trembling hands, he let it drop lopsidedly on his shoulder instead.

“Now don’t go around blaming yourself,” Rhylor said. “If he took you by surprise then there’s no way you could have prepared for it.”


“And if throw yourself around about it, then you’re not going to make things better. Look at Ardray, she’s been blaming herself all her life, and now she’s an over-alert mess.”


“Do you want to be her? Do you want be constantly kicking yourself for something you convinced yourself you did? Do you—”

“Rhylor, she’s right there.”

And Rhylor slowly looked up, and he met Ardray’s furious gray eyes. She was holding a pair of towels in an ominous-looking vice grip. Her lower lip was quivering, as if she were about to slap him.

“Speak of the devil.” Rhylor smiled at her. “It’s amazing how she does that, you know. Pops up when you’re talking about her when you least expect it!”

“Rhylor,” Ardray said in a dangerously sweet voice; “that’s enough now.”

“Are you sure?” he replied with feigned innocence. “I was just getting to the good part, when you set fire to Father Lodennal’s tomato garden.

“Yes, Rhylor, I’m sure.” She momentarily looked at Garril, who was watching with an amused smile on his face. “Now, Yubaga says it’s time for you to start cleaning out the pots. They’re very dirty today; you know how Elsa likes to cook.”

“All right,” he grumbled, moving his hand toward one of the towels. Ardray dropped in the tub, and it sank. It became apparent that a number of stones were hidden in the folds of the fabric.

“Oh my.” She smiled with a chillingly lax expression. “Better get that.” Ardray threw the other towel at Garril, who was trying hard not to laugh. He looked at Rhylor, who fumbled around for the towel at the bottom of the tub.

“Remember the pots, scullion boy. Elsa would really appreciate it.”

It was nighttime, and the rain fell hard and angrily over Mur’tombi’kaam. Tarja found herself lying on the cold wet dirt floor of her prison cell yet again. All of her—her clothes, her hair and her skin—was damp and frigid. She felt numb; unable to move.

“El...Elin...Elinan...” she croaked. Elinan was nowhere.

Tarja remembered earlier, when the fat ugly guard came by and drenched the two of them with water. And then Elinan was nowhere.

“Elinan...!” she groaned with more force. “Elinan...!”

Before her, she could see something slightly whitish. The moonlight glinted off of it, and it was sunken partially into the soil. It was inside the hole that Elinan had dug out. Tarja reached for it.

She could feel a dome; somewhat bumpy. She felt around the thing, and felt two hollows. Inside them, it was wet and mushy. Beneath them, there were two smaller hollows. And beneath that, there were...


Tarja screamed; the thing she had felt was a skull. She felt a greater fear that anything she had ever feared before. She had touched the head of death.

She was still screaming as she backed up into the corner—and into something hard and pointy. Almost like bones. Tarja was about to scream once more, when a hand over mouth silenced her. It too was cold, hard and bony.

“Tarja, hush! It’s me, Elinan!”

“Elinan?” Tarja mumbled with the hand over her mouth. Elinan released Tarja’s face from her grip. She was shivering and shaking like a dry leaf. “Elinan, why did you leave me earlier?” Tarja gasped in an angry tone.

“I did not,” Elinan responded indignantly. “Didn’t you see me? I was in the corner.” Tarja’s quick, angered breathing slowed to a neutral, slower cadence. Tarja looked all around her. Cold, wet dirt floors, people held inside tiny places by cold metal bars—this was not a place for a person to live.

Tarja wondered how she had become trapped in this hell.

One day, she was living peacefully at her farm with her nephew, and they were unbothered. They never bothered anybody; they just let the days pass by, never moving faster or slowing down.

Now, she was inside a frozen cold prison, without having done anything wrong. Was it because she was a sorcerer? Was it because she was Tulla?

“What is this place?” she whispered to nobody.

“Mur’tombi’kaam,” Elinan replied grimly. “It means ‘Place of Death’.”

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