Aftermath

'We can't come to an understanding, we're enemies.' She said it herself, as obvious as you please. Kian resists the urge to slam his head onto the cold stone wall of his cell, punching it instead. For perhaps a thousandth time he wonders how he failed to see it. She made her feelings about his people very plain, talked about people resisting them in the end, she had outright told him he was her enemy. So how come I did not see what was right in front of me this whole time? He asks himself again. Ridiculously, she might have even admitted to being the Scorpion right then and there, had he thought to pose the question to her. But he would not even consider this option, even when her slim frame was what appeared where he had expected to see the rebel leader. He ignored it, like he had ignored her possible involvement in the matters of the escaped prisoner, blinded himself on purpose, accepted the version of reality he was most comfortable with. And I must pay the price.

Dawn finds him still awake three times in a row for the lack of sleep. The fourth time he has just awakened from a nightmare that has exhausted him more than any training day. He watched a small ball of light falling into a huge lake black as tar, he tried to catch it, but failed. He wanted to reach down and pull it out, but he knew his hand would be soiled if he did, so he remained crouching where he was, his hand outstretched, fingers hovering just above the surface, while the light slowly drifted away from him, sinking lower and lower into the depths of the lightless lake, growing fainter until it disappeared completely, leaving him alone in the dark. Then the flimsy bridge beneath him collapsed, throwing him into the tar he'd tried so adroitly to avoid. He sank, blindly grasping around and woke drenched in his own cold sweat, heart hammering.

He knows what brings this nightmare, but he does his best to dispel the doubt. He made the right choice, this is not up to a debate. A heathen's life cannot stand above the life of a trueborn. He has vowed to serve his people and protect them from the likes of her. He could not soil his hands in the blood of the faithful servants of the Goddess in favor of a rebel heretic.

The nightmare returns the next night and the one after and a few more, a little sly voice is born from it, whispering about the oath he has broken by refusing to end her life with his own hand.

A week more and he dreams of striking her himself, her blood burning hot on his hands, spattering his face and he wakes up retching. As he sits leaning on a cold stone wall much later, remembering a faint foul taste that marred the meat course they brought him the day before, he finally asks the question, was it the right thing to do? The realization that he does not truly believe the answer his teachings are giving him is a true horror. All of a sudden he is more fearful than he has been in a whole decade. Reflex sees him to his knees, facing the east, prayers spilling out of his mouth in agitated whispers, begging for forgiveness, for strength, for truth, for the peace of mind he once had. He is asking too much, he knows, but he cannot stop. The words come unbidden over and over again for he doesn't know how long, until his mouth runs dry, throat sore and hoarse. When he looks up, a guard is standing over him, with an escort.

It's another session of interrogation and his answers are as reserved as they were before. Questions are poured at him while the mess is negligently cleaned up. He refuses to answer, he is an Apostle tasked by the Six, only they must hear what he has to say for himself. "When am I to be shipped off to stand trial?" He demands. Unfortunately, his departure must be delayed. The news about the slaughter that took place at the rebel base has spread far and wide. It has caused disturbance among those who counted themselves as sympathizers. The sheer size of the base, on the other hand, caused disturbance among the local Azadi governors. The amount of people, armed people who had found a home there, so close, almost mocking the blindness of the authority was unimaginable. They weren't obliterated either, against Vamon's wishes and expectations. The rebel men may not have been soldiers all, but most were warriors, some better, some worse, but all in all more than a match for foot soldiers. Surprise was their defeat, but a lot of them escaped. They must have. The city is on a lockdown, raids performed, reinforcements practically begged for. No cloudship will be available to transport him in the nearest future, so his justice must wait. This might be the reason they dare beat him when he does not give them the answers they want to hear. They want him to say what the regrouping plan was. They want him to reveal their next hiding place. They demand to know the names of Marcurians who might assist them. They try and force him to admit that he was bribed, or that he renounced his faith in favor of heresy, or that he was bewitched by the rebel leader and labored under a dark spell, or that he was seduced by her feminine charms and became her lover. This and more they ask of him, but he does not comply. The beating is not even half as bad as they think it is. They will not do it in earnest in fear of dealing lasting damage. They would have to answer to The Six. So long as The Six have not stripped him of his rank their protection lays over him, even on the other side of the world. Bruises will fade and minor cuts will heal seamlessly by the time he bends the knee to the Empresses again.

He is weakened though, lack of sleep, empty stomach, being confined to a small cell where no sunlight can reach him, it is taking its toll on him. By the time the darkness consumes the walls around him he feels quite powerless, drained. Good, perhaps that shall be my key to one good night's sleep with no nightmares. "Please", he begs silently as he drifts off to sleep. His plea is almost heard. He dreams still and the dream is as real as any before, without the old horrors though. This time he dreams himself in a vast plain, stretched from horizon to horizon, under shimmering stars. April is there, sitting on the ground a few steps away from him, she has her knees pulled close to her chest, in a very youthful manner. She does not so much as glance at him and he despairs for it. "Please", his prayer flows from waking into dreaming, "I simply want to talk to you a little while longer", he pleads like he did a cursed lifetime ago. She remains silent and distant, emanating such deep sorrow he never thought possible to feel, it infects him, brings him down on his knees and he is filled with gut wrenching guilt.

He wakes with a strange song in his head and newly found shame in his heart. The first light has painted the sliver of sky in his window in colors of dawn. He does not welcome it. For the first time after his arrest he feels broken, not from the beating, not from imprisonment, not threats, from a mere dream. For the first time since leaving Sadir he recalls Garmon's words, they all believed the Goddess had given them a sign, and so did I. For the last time he grasps around for something, anything he can remember that can reassure him. Is there nothing in his faith, in the knowledge of esteemed Azadi scholars who wrote down their wisdom on volumes upon volumes that can give him certainty and release him from this torment? He finally surrenders to the answer he has been trying to escape, to run from, to shield himself from - there isn't.