They had set out from their camps in groups of four to find the four missing members of their party. Each was given a rune which Ume had enchanted. The winds were still furiously stamping out any trace of their passing, and the spirits Ume communed with would lead them back to the camp, which Oslaf and Hoku had remained behind to guard. They were in too much of a hurry to be uneasy with the fact that the spirits of Rathma probably meant ghosts of some sort. At least, that's how Bohdan figured.
Kurast was chaos. After the hordes of corrupted Rogues, Aranoch had seemed like a relief. That sense was diminished after the traumatically bloody battle with Duriel, but still, there was a conventional appeal to fighting in the open sands rather than the writhing shadows of the mountain forests and the convoluted monastery. The architects had apparently kept in mind, when designing the citadel, that its inhabitants would have an innate and accurate sense of direction (granted, of course, by the Sightless Eye), and as such, the caverns were repetitive and confusing. Bohdan was the first to admit he was not among the cleverest of men, and knew that he wouldn't have lasted long without a Rogue to guide him through that labyrinth.
But to go from the liberating space in Aranoch to the dense, overgrown jungle swarming with a thousand creatures ravenously bent on his demise was like fighting with weights on his shoulders - a tedious task he had done once in training and hoped to Bul-Kathos to never do again.
And Kurast was humid. Vidala had said that Kurast would be quite a blessing after the nigh-unbearable heat from Aranoch. She had said that the jungles were cool where she came from. But for one thing, the Amazon Isles were much farther south than Kurast. For another, they had the descending breezes from Mount Karcheus on Philios which kept all three islands' temperatures low, and finally, they were on the sea. Kurast had none of these luxuries, and so the dampness on the air was thick and choking, especially for one raised in the mountains such as he. The steppes may have been relatively low, compared to the other highlands, but the air was still thinner than it was in the southern lands of their massive kingdom. But in Kurast, it felt like the air he was breathing was too big to fit in his lungs. He found himself tiring out easier than usual during battles.
Alaric suffered similarily. Kaelim, on the other hand, seemed to barely notice.
Kaelim was from the Crane Tribe, too, but his mother had been from the Shadow Wolf Tribe, which perhaps accounted for his natural affinity for the axe and sword. Alaric was full-blooded Crane, and used a polearm like Bohdan. Hoku was from the Bear Tribe. Whereas Kaelim, Alaric, and Bohdan had set out together to go adventuring together, Hoku was a loner they met with the Rogues. But he had traveled with them since then, and battled at their side. Bohdan was proud to call him friend and brother.
Bohdan shook his head. He had been trying to remember something. He had been trying to remember a face. It was a face he had glimpsed for a moment in Travincal. Besides, thinking of Kehjistan made him feel warm despite the cold. He could see it as clear as day. Say what you would about his mental capacities, but Bohdan had a vivid memory.
"This is foolish!" Vidala would have shouted if she had felt comfortable raising her voice. But the trees of Kurast were filled with evils that they did not want to alert.
Isenhart sighed impatiently. "Look," he said, and unfolded the map of Kurast on the small box table in the centre of the raft, which Bohdan was staying close to purely out of fear of the water. It wasn't the water itself, per se. The Crane Tribe lived on the rivers, but the rivers of the lower Steppes weren't filled with all manner of carnivorous, and now, demonic creatures.
Isenhart looked over the city map, with small Kehjistani markers of important areas. "Milabrega is using most of the Paladins to carve a way through the jungle, but the armies of flayers are certainly no help. It could take her days to reach the city. Diablo and Baal are probably already there by now. And breaching the city won't exactly help - Mephisto has a substantial number of followers to protect him."
"I know all this," Vidala nodded, with equal impatience. "And let me explain this to you. We're wasting our time and risking our lives looking for trinkets which may not even assist us, when we should be lending our help to Milabrega and the Paladin army."
"Vidala, please listen to me," Isenhart pleaded. "Once Milabrega breaks through the city's defenses, it will be chaos. The Zakarumites will flood the streets, if Ashaera's accounts are at all accurate. We won't have time to go looking for things then. If we perform a hit and run operation like I'm suggesting, we can get in and out with the artifacts we need."
"Why don't we take care of this after we've routed the Zakarumites?" asked M'avina, eager to defend Vidala's viewpoint. They all paused momentarily to keep their footing as the raft turned a corner.
"The zealots may not be quite so easy to route, M'avina," Isenhart explained. "We may have the true Light on our side, but they have numbers on theirs. Milabrega's plan," he said, tracing a line on the map, "is to battle her way through the zealots and straight for the Guardian Tower. Now," he continued with a sigh, "if Cain is right, then the Compelling Orb being used to control the Zakarumites is there, under the protection of the High Council, and at least two Archbishops, according to our intelligence. So, if Milabrega raids the Guardian Tower and destroys the Orb, the Zakarum will fall out of Mephisto's control."
"But the Orb is an embodiment of hatred," Regha shook her head, listening from the bow of the raft. "It cannot be destroyed by an outright violent act. So unless you can come up with a way to smash it without damaging it, that will be no easy task."
"Cain thinks that if we attack it with the spirit of the one thing Mephisto was never able to touch, we can break it, and the spell," Isenhart explained.
"Khalim," said the dark-skinned Sorceress, Eschuta.
"No, Kaelim," Kaelim corrected her.
Regha rolled her eyes. "No, Khalim. The former Que-Hegan of the Zakarum. Senkekur and the other Archbishops fell under Mephisto's influence, but Khalim resisted. So the Archbishops killed Khalim and Senkekur usurped his position."
"Cain thinks the same," Isenhart nodded.
"But how?" asked Jabari, at the stern with a silent Kinemil, and handling the rudder. "According to the story, Khalim was dismembered and scattered through the jungle."
"Yes," Isenhart grinned, "which is why we need Lam Esen's tome."
"What?" Vidala was thoroughly confused. "Lam Esen, the Skastimi sage of legend? What does he have to do with any of this?"
"Lam Esen wrote a book, apparently very cryptic when read out of context, which was said to prophesy these very events we live through right now - the return of the Prime Evils. In retrospect, much of it foretold the corruption of the Faithful, as well. It may tell us what we need to know to break this spell."
"That's a big may," Vidala pointed out. Bohdan chuckled at that.
"We've got little else to go on," Isenhart protested. "Regha's right. Alone, no act of violence can harm a device of hatred. And as long as the Compelling Orb is intact, we cannot win this. I can say that with certainty. We're at the disadvantage because we're trying to get into an easily defended area, and also, they have us at the simple disadvantage of numbers. If each warrior in our service killed five of theirs, we'd still have half of their forces to contend with."
Vidala glanced at M'avina, and then sighed. "All right, well where's the Book?"
"The Black Book was the main religious text for the Skatsim," Isenhart explained. "During the initial stage of the Inquisition, such documents were rooted out and taken from public eyes, deemed evil propaganda. They were taken to the underground temples throughout Kurast and kept there."
"There are underground temples?" Vidala looked at him critically.
"Yes, beneath several altars throughout the city. They were used for private worship by the Faithful who had joined one of the orders. The general public wasn't aware of them."
"On the Isles," M'avina said smugly, "every temple is open to every person, despite their class." Isenhart gave her a sidelong glance but said nothing. Bohdan was a little surprised at M'avina. Isenhart's world had been proved to be a falsehood, and everything he believed in had been corrupted. It was unlike M'avina to rub his face in it.
"How many temples are there?" asked Eschuta.
"Six," Isenhart replied. "Two under the marketplace, two under Upper Kurast, and two adjunct to the Causeway. I suggest we make two teams. We raid one second of the city, strike at both temples at once, and then regroup and move on to the next one. I'll lead one team, and Vidala the other."
Bohdan had half-expected Regha to object. He couldn't see her from his angle, but he doubted that she was thrilled. "I'll take Eschuta, Bohdan, M'avina, and Jabari, and you take Kinemil, Regha, and Kaelim. Will that do?"
Vidala paused. "This seems like a waste of time. We should be with Milabrega and the others. Lam Esen's tome could just be another dead end."
"Don't underestimate the Old Religion," Eschuta warned Vidala. "The Gidbinn's usefulness to us should prove that it's teachings have merit."
Vidala nodded to her, and then turned to Isenhart. "Very well."
Eschuta's dialect and appearance told Bohdan that she was a native of Kehjistan, and she had been helping Milabrega when they had arrived from across the sea. Though they had never spoken to each other about their pasts, Bohdan suspected that she was a follower of the Old Religion.
Hratli had told him that Sorceresses were a vexing people in Kurast; that many male-dominated Mage Clans were not pleased with their existence, and it wasn't just sexism. The Zann Esu were the only clan who had never been a part of the Horadrim, and as such, had never been a part of the brutal Clan Wars. There seemed to be a jealously against those who had learned the secrets of magic without paying a price in blood. So being a Sorceress in Kurast did not mark a popular woman. A Skatsimi Sorceress, however, was just asking for trouble. Eschuta had few friends in the city. And yet, here she was, defending it. Bohdan respected her a great deal for that.
Aside from a quick debacle with a young tentacle beast, the trip down the river was uneventful.
Kinemil and Jabari moored the raft on one of the algae-covered stone staircases that served as permanent docks on the rim of the river. There was a small, hooded boat lashed to a tree and bumping into the docks at every ripple in the current. Bohdan caught sight of a long-dead arm hanging from the side. He cringed.
Everyone stepped carefully up the slippery stairs until they were on the swampy grass. Bohdan and his comrades looked out at Kurast.
The first thing that drew the eye was, of course, the Guardian Tower, which was visible even from his current vantage point. The taller buildings of Upper Kurast blocked the temple itself, which Bohdan had heard was quite impressive. And all around him were the low, crude buildings which served as the market, overgrown with the insidious jungle, saturated with the blood of thousands.
They had been forced out quickly, he had heard from the survivors at the docks. But he hadn't entirely conceived what that entailed. Bags of fruit had rotted. Stands were still erect with nuts and grains, and batches of bananas had turned back from lack of attention. And then there were the dead. Peering into any building revealed the piled up bodies of Kurast citizens, and some bodies hadn't even been cleaned up. They were scattered throughout the city, some more far-gone than others. They lay in the middle of the roads, propped up against walls or tree trunks, or thrown in the reservoirs. The city reeked of a dank and humid death.
"Even the mad spirits have left this place," Eschuta whispered. "We shall be granted no boons, here." She raised her orb and stepped forward.
Isenhart led them stealthily through the marketplace, avoiding patrols of Zakarumites. He noted wryly that evading them would not be so easy once they reached nearer to Travincal, where the zealots were likely to be accompanied by the magically-attuned priests.
They reached a broken-down temple, killed the few guards there, and Isenhart directed Vidala to activate the trick-staircase which lead down into the fane. He warned her to be cautious before leaving to find the second temple.
Isenhart slowed them behind a ruined smithy. "There," he said, pointing with his elegant Lightbrand.
A dozen Zakarumites, wielding swords, maces, and polearms, were milling about aimlessly at the foot of a two-story, windowless building surrounded by a narrow moat. A wide staircase ascended shortly to a landing, which continued to an entrance on the second story. The building's design seemed inefficient. It seemed like a lot of masonry for not much room. A hidden reliquary below made perfect sense.
Isenhart sighed grimly. "Now remember, this corruption has made them unreasonable, but passionate. They will not stop until they slay those they deem tainted, which is anyone not in league with them."
Divo's face had flashed into Bohdan's mind, then. He had shaken the image from his sight.
Eschuta gently pushed past Bohdan to get a better look. "We cannot let this become a brawl. There's too many of them," she noted expertly. She surveyed them with a thoughtful hum. "They have no ranged combatants. If I lay out some spells, I may be able to draw them into a more advantageous arena."
Close-quarter combat. And Bohdan with his halberd. Isenhart nodded his agreement, and Eschuta made to enter the fray.
"I'll go with her," Bohdan said quickly, and got up beside her.
Eschuta didn't look happy or vexed at the suggestion, but just moved forward. He followed, and in moments they were out from the cover of the smithy.
Without a word, Eschuta kissed the head of her orb, ducked her shield behind her back, and snapped it forward as if it were a whip. In the course of a nanosecond, a light traveled down her arm, through the shaft, and out the tip of her orb as a miniature flame streaking quickly through the air. One Zakarumite saw it before it landed, but made no action, and when it did land, a wall of flame suddenly burst up under the congregation of soldiers, lighting many robes on fire. They screamed out in a guttural, bastardized version of the Kehjistani language. One spotted Eschuta, and those who were not busily putting themselves out hoisted their weapons and charged.
Eschuta exchanged her stance for another, and then dramatically raised her arms and thrust her palms out towards the Zakarumites. A ripple in the air heralded a funnel of flame that burst from her hands and engulfed the first in the column. He dropped his weapon in a panic, and began to run around crazily. Eschuta gestured for Bohdan to fall back, and then followed him. The infuriated Zakarumites immediately gave chase, and were led into the alley behind the smithy. Between two of M'avina's arrows, a fire ball from Jabari, three swift blows from Isenhart, two swipes from Bohdan's polearm, and a chain of lightning dancing from one victim to the next from Eschuta, the Zakarum fell in half a minute.
Eschuta modestly stepped over her many victims and walked towards the temple. "Quickly," she urged, "the din may have raised alarm."
They stepped lightly into the temple.
At the back wall and in the centre of the rectangular room which seemed to make up the entire building, was a crescent of stairs ascending to a cruel altar. The altar, and the steps, were dark with blood, dried and fresh. The smell of blood was thick on the air.
But for all the mess on the stairs, the blood didn't pool at the base. Instead, it disappeared down a barely visible crack at the foot of the stairs. Isenhart hesitantly reached forward and lightly pressed one of the symbols on the altar. He hopped back as, with a series of clicks, the stone stairs inverted into an entryway to a dark corridor with flickering torchlight beckoning them in.
"Be very careful," Isenhart whispered. He had said the same to Vidala. He cautiously led the way, with Eschuta right behind him, Jabari in the middle, and Vidala and Bohdan bringing up the rear.
The ruined temple was painfully dark. What the sparse light did illuminate was generally splattered with blood. The corridor opened into a large chamber with a high ceiling, with small portholes that allowed pockets of light on the floor. At the far end was the apparent reliquary, all arranged very orderly. There were staves and robes and masks made of gold and adorned with feathers. Eschuta's eyes were darting from item to item. It seemed that each of them held some significance to her. In the centre of all these relics, and within a pool of light from the surface, was a lectern with a thick, old book upon it. And before the lectern, with her back to them, and primarily in shadow, was a woman. Likely a Zakarum priestess.
Isenhart took the other side of the doorway, and M'avina took his flank. He motioned silently to advance.
Distorted, feminine laughter filled the chamber. It was two voices speaking as one. Bohdan had heard that once before. He was the first to realize that she was a Rogue.
"You didn't really think that you could sneak up on me . . ." she turned, and walked into the light. Her hair had fallen out, and now twin horns thrust out of her skull. Her teeth were sharp and numerous, and gripped limply at her side was a long, straight sword, which she held a plain, scarred kite shield in the other. Her tall boots were worn and black, and she wore a loin cloth and bustier. Out from her arms sprouted symmetrical spikes, and the tendrils of corruption interwove throughout them and onto her chest.
Bohdan hefted his halberd. "What are you doing in Kurast?"
"What does it matter?" she asked with a shrug. "I know why you have come, and can safely tell you that what you seek is here, because you will not leave this place."
"There are others," Isenhart whispered. Bohdan had counted on this as well. The corrupted Rogues always traveled in groups. But he could not see them, and, the way his eyes were darting from one shadow to the next, Isenhart likely could not, either.
"Know, before you die, that I am the Battlemaid Sarina," she introduced herself in the unnerving double-voice, "and that this is my penance for the sin of pride."
She bowed, almost apologetically, and the Rogues were upon them.
The group scattered as the Rogues burst from the shadows of the chamber. Some were still recognizably human, others were disturbingly far-gone, their faces hidden by the insidious growths that told of their corruption. Bohdan immediately rushed away from his fellows so that he could use his halberd without worrying about them. In a graceful leap, he brought his halberd down, burying it in a Rogue's skull. He pushed her away as the strange, mystical light pulled her corpse upwards as it escaped, and then she fell in a heap on the floor. Bohdan decapitated one Rogue, and with the same momentum, sliced out one's knees from beneath her. She fell on her back, screaming insanely for a moment, before Bohdan delivered the fatal blow to her chest.
He had barely time to congratulate himself before a spearwoman charged him. He parried her lunge with the blunt end of his halberd, and then brought the other end around in an attempt to slice off the top of her head. But she avoided the blow, and in a moment, they had the staves locked together. He had never been so close to the face of a living Rogue who had fallen to Andariel's influence. A lattice of tumourous tendrils wrapped around her neck and the back of her head, where a line of short horns had grown. Her eyes were glassy, and her features stretched. Her mouth looked bigger than it should, distorted into a demonic grin. She frothed as she snarled up at him. "You shall know pain before you die."
For a woman of her stature, he was surprised and inwardly embarrassed that she could contest him. The advantage went back and forth several times, before he finally pushed her off of him. She took a step back, and then swung the spear like a pole-arm. Bohdan limberly ducked under the swipe, and then thrust the end of his halberd under her ribs. His awkward position made it only a superficial wound, but she stopped to examine it for a moment, and that was all the time he needed. He withdrew the weapon from her, and then delivered a quick blow to her side that struck her spine. She gurgled, hesitantly, almost, before the strange light left her body and she slid off the end of her blade.
He glanced around at the battle. Jabari had been wounded, but seemed to be doing all right. M'avina had moved to higher ground and was shooting any approaching Rogue. Isenhart was caught up in the fervor of battle, cutting a swath through the demon women, and Eschuta had just finished off an offending archer.
Bohdan looked for Sarina. His eyes went immediately to the dais, where he found the lectern empty, and our of the corner of his eye he saw a flash of movement in another hallway. Keeping close to the walls to avoid getting caught up in another fight, he made to follow her. Eschuta, having spotted her as well, beat him to the doorway, paying him no heed, and led him down the corridor.
It rounded a corner, and continued into another open room, smaller than the first, but with the same high ceiling and pooling light.
As Eschuta crossed the threshold, Sarina brought around her shield and bashed her in the face. The Sorceress cried out and fell back, partly from the blow and partly to flee. Bohdan moved his halberd to one hand to catch her. Her nose was covered in blood. Sarina rounded the corner. Bohdan moved Eschuta to the side and thrust his halberd forward, catching Sarina on the shield and forcing her back into the room. He could not battle her here.
She submitted and backed off, letting him enter the room. Her sword was at her side, in a non-committed grasp. There was a relaxed, intoxicated air to her gait. He wasn't sure if she was being cocky, or if she was trying to make him think she was cocky. She was incredibly hard to read.
"A shot from the dark like that?" Bohdan sneered. "Not exactly the most dignified battle tactic."
She smirked. "This is war, Northerner. I don't have time for dignity. My pride has cost me enough already."
Bohdan had his weapon ready, and though he made no move to attack, he advanced slowly. He didn't want her close to Eschuta. Not only for Eschuta's safety, but his own, in the case that she was taken hostage. "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded. He noticed the book in the corner, on the ground.
"I thought I could flee my Mistress' grasp," she spat, dispersing the unperturbed stance. "I thought that if I left the Monastery to her, she would leave me be. I thought that mere geography could separate us." She frowned, and shook her head. "I was a fool."
She attempted to circle him, but he sidestepped. Neither had made a direct move at the other. "The hold she took on the Sightless Eye was too profound for physical space to defy. She had taken me already. I felt anguish and despair pull at my heart, and was proud enough to think I could deny it. That is why I fled, and that is why they" - she pointed to the hallway, where Eschuta was still regaining herself - "came with me. When I stepped off the ship and into the jungles, though, I knew that I had been defeated. And so I was sent here, to serve out my sentence, beyond the presence of the Maiden. I am without fulfillment, and shall be for eternity."
"Andariel is dead," Bohdan hoped to shock her with his naked statement of fact.
"Then I shall preserve her spirit," Sarina said, unphased. "I was appointed Battlemaid. I shall satisfy that duty in the service of her ally."
With amazing speed, she suddenly leapt forward. He quickly crossed his arms and made a wide sweep, hoping to block any blow she might attempt to land while making one of his own. But she managed to avoid it and smacked the halberd away with the flat of her blade before body-checking him to the side. He almost fell, but kept his footing, until she brought the kite shield up and smashed him in the face.
The brutal force behind he strike put him on his back. He felt blood on his lips. Sarina stood before him, her skin glistening with sweat, and her sword reflecting the dull light from the ceiling. She took a step towards him.
It suddenly got very cold.
Eschuta stood in the doorway, her face still covered in blood, and swirling winds were whirling around her hands. Sarina snarled and turned, and made to charge the Sorceress. Eschuta struck forward with her orb, and a shard of ice materialized and sped towards her foe. Sarina blocked with her shield, but where it struck, a field of frost swept across the shield, and Sarina cried out as it chilled her hand. Her hollow eyes turned to the Sorceress, and she swung her blade with a truly inhuman shriek. Eschuta blocked with her shield, and Sarina raked the blade across the surface, and then bashed it aside with the flat of her blade. Eschuta raised her orb to cast a spell, and Sarina slid plunged her sword into the base of Eschuta's abdomen. The energies dispersed, and Eschuta doubled over with a groan.
"No!" Bohdan cried out, lifting himself to his feet.
Sarina raised her sword to strike a fatal blow, but Bohdan jabbed her with the butt of his halberd. Winded, Sarina backed up to the wall, knocked the frost off her shield, and prepared herself. Bohdan put himself between her and Eschuta.
Sarina examined her hand, and shook the numbness from her fingers. As she did, she glanced at Bohdan, and smiled. "I can smell her on you, you know. No," she replied to Bohdan's apprehensive glance at the Sorceress, "not her. The Rogue."
Bohdan's mind exploded, but all he could do was stand there.
"You should feel privileged. Few Sisters give themselves to anyone but the Great Eye. You must have been very special to her. She's one of us now. I can tell you that with certainty."
"How do you know that?" Bohdan stomped forward a pace.
"Such is the nature of our taint," Sarina replied. She paused, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply. "Divo."
He struck, jabbing forward with the halberd. Sarina caught it on the shield, and then made an overhead strike with her sword. Bohdan stepped back, and caught it on the shaft of the halberd. With a grunt, he pushed her away, bashed the shield out of the way with the butt of the polearm, and drove the blade into her chest. She winced, surprised at her defeat. Her sword dropped from her fingers.
Bohdan tugged the halberd out of her body, and she fell into the wall, smirking. She managed a painful chuckle. "You . . . you don't know where she is."
Bohdan clenched his teeth and advanced upon her. But before he could deliver another blow, the ethereal mist left her body, and the fell to the ground without ceremony.
A struggled voice came from behind him, "Bohdan . . ."
"Divo," he whispered.
But it was not Divo. He dropped his halberd and helped Eschuta to her feet. "Take me," she said, her voice wet with blood and death, "out to the reliquary."
The Rogues had all been slain, and Jabari and M'avina were throwing the bodies onto a pile in the corner. Isenhart was kneeling down, his head bowed, praying. Bohdan had Eschuta's arm over his shoulder, and was holding her up as she brokenly followed him into the room. She made no move to catch the attention of the others, and neither did he.
"Lay me down," she whispered.
Isenhart looked up.
Bohdan gently set Eschuta on the stone floor, doing his best to avoid any blood, which was no easy task. Eschuta pointed to the cluster of items on the dais. "The shroud. The black shroud."
Bohdan saw it, hanging on the wall. He nodded.
Her arm collapsed. "Take it to Ormus. Tell him I will see him again."
And then she died.
Isenhart emerged from the corridor with the book, and Bohdan's halberd. Bohdan hadn't realized that he had gone into it in the first place. Bohdan rearranged her arm. He felt like he should do more. Isenhart put a hand on his shoulder. "We should leave here."
"What about Eschuta."
"Leave her," said Jabari, "The Zakarumites will return. We don't have time to take her with us."
"They will leave her here," said Isenhart. "We cannot help her now."
She looked remarkably peaceful. Bohdan looked up at the wall, and took the black shroud from its place. He turned to Isenhart.
"You have the book?" he knew that he did.
The Paladin nodded. "I do. We should leave," he said again.
They climbed the stairs into the daylight, and they began to retrace their steps. Bohdan followed M'avina. They moved quicker than they had coming in. But as they passed in an alley, Bohdan glanced back, and saw a woman looking at him from a shop window. At this distance, he couldn't make her out, but she was staring directly at him. He stopped, and took a step towards her.
"Bohdan, c'mon," M'avina urged, still running.
He took two more steps.
"Bohdan!" she snapped.
He stopped, and glanced back at the Amazon, then at the market. The woman was gone. He heard the cries of the fallen Paladins, and sighed heavily. Then he turned and followed M'avina back to the raft. He wanted so badly to weep, but did not. He couldn't believe it anymore. He had to realize, he knew, that she was never coming back.
He stopped. The snowstorm fogged his vision at every angle, but he turned around. And there was a shadow, there, behind the veil of snow. A woman. But it faded, and became one with the snow. He sighed, and felt the cold air fill his lungs.
"She's never coming back," he whispered. He knew it. He just didn't believe it.
Ume led them to a tall cave that reeked like a farmyard and a slaughterhouse. Arcanna was there, nursing a wound that Jabari had received. Her eyes shot towards them as they entered the mouth.
"Arcanna," Kaelim said softly, "what . . ."
"Kinemil!" Arcanna cried. "You need to help him. I don't have any potions."
Kinemil sheathed his sword and jogged across the cave to the two spellcasters. Ume followed him.
"Where's M'avina and Alaric?" asked Kaelim.
"Goatmen," said Arcanna. "There were a clan of goatmen. They had Alaric, and . . ."
"Where are they?" asked Bohdan.
Arcanna pointed down the central corridor. Bohdan immediately ran down it. "They're in there," Arcanna called, "but . . ." anything further she said was lost to him.
Bohdan emerged into a mist-enshrouded courtyard that smelled of cold blood. As he slowly advanced, he saw the broken remains of the clan. The blood was steaming in the snow.
He saw M'avina's silhouette in the fog, and stepped forward. She had her back to him, and was staring at something before her. "M'avina," he called, but he said no more.
Like a ship on foggy seas, the gallows seemed to come out of the fog towards him, and the agonized body of Alaric, swaying on the end of a rope, staring at the ground, as if intently interested.
M'avina sighed, and turned to him. "The Rogues cover the eyes of their dead so that the Sightless Eye will guide them to their rest," she explained quietly, and then walked past him and out of the courtyard.
Bohdan began to cry. "Thank you," he said, but she didn't hear him.