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I got this story stuck in my head so I figured I better write it down before I forget. It came out longer than I expected *cough*around15pages* though. LOL I might expand the universe later on, but I need to organize my ideas first. Anyway... here is the story. I had break it down into spoiler tags to make it easier to read (not to mention it would be a very long post otherwise).
The Maiden of Puria
Long ago, there lived two goddesses.
Even though they were sisters, they were nothing alike.
For Merzak loves the taste of human flesh
while Puria guides humans in their endeavors.
In spite of these differences, these sister goddesses were cordial to each other until one day.
Both have loved a maiden with a pure heart and desired to have her as their priestess.
They showered her with gifts and promises of unconditional love.
However, she was only allowed to serve one goddess.
In the end, she chose to serve Puria, which greatly angered Merzak.
Furious by the rejection, she vowed that she would steal maiden from her sister.
Gathering her followers, she led an attack on Puria's men.
In return, Puria led her men in a counterattack.
The war was fierce and drove family apart;
Brother from sister, husband from wife, father from son.
The fields, once used for farming, were stained red
as the war waged on for several years.
In the end, Puria defeated her sister and cursed her into monstrous beings.
In spite of her defeat, Merzak declared that every time her sister has a new priestess,
she would do everything in her power to take her away.
So to this day, Merzak and Puria's followers continued to battle
for the Maiden of Puria.
- From the archives of the Purian Temple
The sun peeking from the window woke Kyah from her slumber. Opening her eyes slowly, she lay lazily on her bed and debated whether or not to get out of bed. The comfortable, warm bed beckoned her to linger for a while so she was tempted to do so. However, knowing Janae, she would scold her for not being a responsible girl and give her one of her long lectures about how she's wasting her life by being idled in bed. With a deep sigh, she reluctantly rose from bed and stretched. She walked up to the window and pulled the curtains letting the early sun warmed her face. Seeing the green pastures always put her mind at ease for some reason. Maybe it's because it reminded her of home, which she hasn't seen for almost a year now. It was hard to imagine that she was homesick when she first arrived at the temple, but she has grown to love the place as a second home.
Kyah could still remember the day when she was chosen to become the newest Maiden of Puria. The 21st Maiden has become too old to fulfill her duties so it was decided that a new one was needed to be found. From what she's been told, the old priestess had a vision that her successor will live in the farming village of Pillar and that she would be herding sheep near an ancient oak tree. On the day that the search party arrived in the village, she was at that exact spot. Imagine her surprise when a band of priests and soldiers approached her and declared that she would appoint as Puria's Beloved. Her parents were so thrilled about the announcement, but she had mixed feelings about it. It was indeed the highest honor bestowed, but at the same time, she wondered whether or not she actually deserved that honor.
She was beginning her morning routine of getting dressed when someone knocked on the door. "Come in," Kyah shouted as she buttoned up her dress. A young woman with her amber hair tied in a bun entered the room. "Good morning, mistress," she murmured as she bowed her head. She placed a tray of her breakfast on the table; the succulent aroma of rosemary-covered lamb and fresh-baked bread filled the room. Her plain white dress swayed as she continued dryly, "I see that I didn't have to wake you up this morning."
Scowling, Kyah replied, "I'm fully capable of waking up on my own, Janae. For someone who is only two years older than me, you act like a babysitter." Her hand servant just gave her sly smirk as she answered, "Of course, mistress, except for the fact that you are supposed to wake up three hours ago. As the Maiden of Puria, you need to live up to your duties or people would view your actions as being disgraceful toward the goddess. After all, you wouldn't want Nanzi to know about it, would you?"
The young priestess froze in terror; her predecessor was a very stern and no nonsense kind of woman with whom no one likes to be. The High Servant Nanzi expected perfection and if one makes even a minor mistake, she would make sure that he or she will never forget it. Once Kyah forgot to light the candles in front of Puria's altar and she received a scolding so severe that she wished that she got spanked instead. "You wouldn't!" she protested accusingly. "If you did, you would get punished as well for not doing your duty of helping me be a 'dutiful' Maiden of Puria."
Instead of being horrified, Janae just looked thoughtful. "Hmmm..." she mused, "that's true, mistress. Facing her wrath isn't something that I'm looking forward to. How's about this? I won't tell Nanzi about this transgression if you allow me to brush your hair while you eat?" Kyah nodded to show her assent and added, "You don't need to be formal with me; no one else is around to admonish you." Janae breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks the goddess! I was about to go crazy calling you 'Mistress' after almost every sentence!"
With that being said, her servant glided over and picked a brush. In spite of their work relationship, the young Maiden has always viewed her hand servant as her best friend. While Janae was brushing her sand-colored hair as she ate, they talked about the latest gossips and updates. Suddenly, she started laughing aloud, which startled the young priestess. Alarmed, she turned around to see what was so funny. "I'm sorry," her hand servant apologized while wiping her tears, "but it's been awhile since we talked like this. The last time was just before..." An awkward silence filled the room. Kyah's face became pale remembering the incident that happened three weeks ago.
She was performing a purification ceremony so she could be worthy of Puria's love when suddenly a small band of Merzakians barged into the temple. The temple guards were caught off-guard and were easily slaughtered. Panicking, the priests tried their best to protect her or lead her to safety. However, their brutish enemies overtook them and skewered them with their spears. During that time, she remembered that she was running without knowing where she was going and being terrified from hearing all of the painful cries of the dying.
Then Kyah heard someone shouting and she realized that Merzak's followers were closing in on her. Horrified, she realized that they were attempting to corner her and that there was no way to escape. Somehow they knew the temple blueprint... but how? She was about to fall into despair when she recall that she was nearby the bell chamber, which meant that she could warn everyone that the temple was in danger. If she could reach it in time, maybe there will be a chance that her people would come and save her.
Quickly gaining her composure, she sprinted left and headed straight down the hallway. She could hear the stomping footsteps of her pursuers closing in so she forced herself to run faster even though she was beginning to feel exhausted. Finally, she arrived at her destination. Stumbling to open the door, she was able to get her shaking hands to turn the knob and entered the room. After she slammed the door and staggering some boxes in front of the door, she turned and ran to find the rope to ring the bell.
As she approached the middle of the room, she was filled with dread when she saw that the rope was cut and realized her mistake. Of course, they would expect her to go to this room because they figured out that she would try to get reinforcements. Someone from the shadows tossed the cut rope at her feet, which confirmed her conclusion. Figures merged from the shadows and with a blink of an eye, seven Merzakians surrounded her. One of them, whom she presumed to be the leader, came forward and beckoned her gently to come with them. Backing away from him, she shook her head and managed to mutter, "No."
They just laughed at her response because what could she do? The Merzakian behind her just grabbed her by the arms and pinned her against his bulky body. Exhausted and in shock, she didn't fight back when they tied her hands and feet. After easily clearing away the boxes from the door, her kidnappers carried her out of the room and met up with their comrades outside of the room. As soon as they saw her, the others mumbled with approval.
"We better hurry," one of them said gruffly. "Someone must have escaped because Sevan said that he saw some soldiers coming here. He thinks that they will be here in twenty minutes!" Hearing those words broke Kyah out of her stupor, and she immediately started to put up a fight by kicking and screaming. Her handler lost his grip and she fell roughly on the floor, which caused her to lose breath. "Can't you control her!?" One of the men berated. "We need a gag or something to shut her up!"
The leader just smiled and answered, "I have a better idea. Luckily High Priest Astra has given me a spell just in case this happens." He walked toward her and knelt so he could look at her. Putting his hand beneath her chin, he moved her face so that she could face him. "What a beautiful girl," he commented. "Our goddess, Merzak, would be pleased with this one." Stroking her damp hair, he put his head close to her left ear and whispered a single word, "Nwe." Kyah opened her mouth to respond but she suddenly felt tired. Her eyelids flickered as she tried to stay awake, but she couldn't keep them open. As she entered into the world of the unconscious, she thought she heard the man muttered, "Sleep well, Maiden."
Kyah, hearing those words again, subconsciously shuddered. When she woke up, she was surprised and confused to find herself back in her room. Janae had come barging in the room and hugged her tightly that she almost couldn't breathe. Her servant with her eyes so red from crying then explained that some of the temple guards were able to give chase and caught up to her kidnappers. A small skirmish occurred and apparently all of the Merzakians were killed. After she learned about it, Kyah had asked her about how the Merzakians were able to sneak into the temple without being seen. From what she learned from Janae, the temple had apparently built an underground tunnel, which has been forgotten, long ago so that the Maiden and others can escape in case the temple was attacked. Ironically, the enemy used that same tunnel to secretly enter the temple for their plans.
After she found out that information, she admitted that she became terrified and wondered aloud why was she staying there? However, her servant assured her that the tunnel had been caved in and builders were sealing the secret doorway. She also added that Nanzi had decided that it wasn't safe for her successor to go outside anymore so it was decreed that she would stay inside the temple's walls until it was deemed safe. Kyah immediately protested by claiming that it was like a prison, but her best friend insisted that it was for her own good. In spite of her frustrations, she didn't want to admit that she was rather afraid of the outside world.
Her train of thoughts was broken when Janae spoke, "Umm... let's change subject. Oh, I know! Did you hear the rumor that Roku and Este are dating?" The surprised priestess turned her head around. When she was discovered to be the next Maiden, her oldest brother, Roku, suddenly announced that he intended to join the Temple Guards. The priests and Nanzi were grumbling with displeasure about it since the Maiden was supposed to begin her life anew - away from her family and friends. However, once they saw Roku's sword skills, they decided to make an exception - just this time. She was relieved when she heard the decision and her brother just winked at her. That was when she realized that he did it for her sake, for which she was always grateful.
It was also a good thing that he was there. From what Janae told her, it was Roku and his comrades who saved her from the Merzakians. And one of his fellow soldiers was a young woman named Este, who came from a village close to her hometown. Apparently, she and Roku got along immediately when they first met each other that they were each other's sparring partners. "Really?" she finally asked. "It took them long enough! Why don't we ask them if the rumor is true?"
Janae just shook her head. "Unfortunately, they are out patrolling the border ever since that failed kidnapping attempt. I don't know when they will get back here." Kyah's heart sank; she was hoping to see Roku so she thanked him. She must have looked disappointed because her friend added quickly, "But I'm sure that they will be back before you know it. Anyway, you're ready! What do you want to do today?"
Kyah thought for a moment. "Let's go for a walk," she suggested. "I want to survey the rebuilding progress." Her servant looked pleased and troubled; it was probably since she rarely left her room since that horrible night and she still has some trauma. "Are you still having those migraines?" she asked with a concern tone. Even though she has a headache now and then, Kyah lied and shook her head, this seemed to calm Janae’s worry. With a condescending bow, she said mockingly, "As you wish, Maiden of Puria" and led the way.
Most of the temple was completely restored to its original glory. There were some minor damages here and there, but it looked like the restoration will be done within a week. During their walk, everyone stopped what they were doing and bowed respectfully. Kyah always lowered her eyes; this amount of attention still embarrassed her. In the temple hierarchy, she was ranked the highest followed by the head priest, the other priests, the temple guards, and lastly, the servants. The High Servant, which was what former Maiden of Puria is called, was not considered a part of the hierarchy because she was considered as a mentor of a sort. In order to become the High Servant, a Maiden either got married or became too old to fulfill her duties. Nanzi's reason was due to the latter, but in spite of the fact that she was seventy-seven years old, she still has her fiery spirit.
Speaking of which... "Where's Nanzi? She's usually around here." Kyah wondered aloud; she peeked around the corners just to see if her mentor was lurking in the shadows. Her servant just shrugged. "She's probably berating some poor laborer for a shoddy job, Mistress," she replied nonchalantly. "The Head Servant has become very vigilant after what happened to you and she wanted to make sure that it will never happen again." That was most likely true. Once Nanzi is dedicated to something, she will make sure it will be perfect.
"Is there anywhere else do you wish to go, Mistress?" Janae inquired as another servant bowed. The priestess didn't need to think about it. "Let's go see the sheep," she said. Her friend, knowing that she loves that animal that she even secretly named them, just smiled and led the way. They went out to the balcony where they could see the sheep grazing on the fields, which stretched beyond the hills. Looking at them for a few minutes, Kyah frowned. "Janae, has anyone been taking care of the sheep?" Her servant gave her a confused look. "What do you mean, Mistress?"
Waving her hand at the herd, an upset Kyah explained, "They seem sluggish and many look like they're going to collapse from exhaustion. Not to mention it looks like they're starving!" Her friend stared at the sheep as if she was pondering something. "It's probably because the Merzakians burned the fields during their raid. The grass has finally regained its green color so I wouldn't worry," she reassured the priestess. However, Kyah wasn't still satisfied with that answer and insisted, "I'm going to check on them." Before a protesting Janae could stop her, she hurried down the stairs.
As she stepped outside the temple door, the Maiden suddenly felt a strong pang in her head. A thousand needles seemed to be stabbing her brain and her eyes started to water from the pain. Because of this, she collapsed down to her knees. Holding her head in her hands, she barely opened her eyes and saw a horrifying vision. The once-grassy fields were barren and dry; the smell of ashes filled her nose. The thing that shocked her was that instead of seeing sheep, she saw people or rather slaves toiling the soil. "Wh-what?" she barely stammered and turned her head slightly. The temple guards didn't look like Purians at all; instead they look like Merzakians. Terrified, she stumbled back to her feet and started to run the stairs. However, someone grabbed her hand, which caused her to recoil in fear.
"Mistress, are you all right!?" Kyah closed her eyes and opened them again. Everything was back to normal - no barren land, no slaves, and especially no Merzakians. Sighing with relief, she turned around and hugged an anxious Janae tightly. "Oof!" her friend said. "What is wrong with you!?" The priestess just laughed and answered, "It's nothing! It's just-" She hesitated - what if Janae thought she was crazy? "It's just a headache, that's all." Her friend squinted and glared at her. "You said that you didn't have any more of those migraines!" she replied accusingly. "I can't believe you have the nerves to lie to me about..." Kyah just kept silent while her servant scolded her in front of everyone. Her head was still pounding but it was getting better. Janae must have noticed because she softened her tone. "Let's go back inside," she decided as she led her friend inside. "I think you need some rest."
Walking in the temple's hallways seemed to help her head; something about the place always put her at ease for some reason. "I'm fine now," she thanked her friend. She clasped her hands into the other girl's to show her gratitude and the latter smiled in return. They continued their walk in silence; each was in deep in her thoughts. Kyah was still troubled by what she's seen. Was it a vision of the future or something else? Something caught her eyes though and stopped in midtrack, which caught Janae by surprise. "Is something wrong, Mistress?" she inquired. The priestess shook her head and pointed to what she was staring at. Mystified, her friend looked up and realized why they've stopped.
The huge marble statue of Puria seemed to be looking lovingly down at them. She has a long dress that reached down to the end of feet and a veil, which covered her long tresses. In her hands, she held a dill daisy, which was rumored to be her gift to the first Maiden. Whenever Kyah felt homesick or lonely, she would always come here and mediate. Something about this place always calm her down and now she felt her unease being lifted away. "Janae, I've decided," she finally announced. Her friend raised her eyebrow quizzically as she continued, "I think I'm ready to fulfill my duties again."
Instead of looking happy, Janae just frowned. "Are you sure?" she whispered. "You still have those migraines and if something happened to you during the ceremo-" The Maiden raised her hand to silence her. "I'm fine," she insisted. "I just need some rest just like you said. I'll be fine by the time the ceremony begins." Her servant just sighed when she realized that it was a losing battle; she can be very stubborn sometimes. Smiling triumphantly, she turned to look at Puria one more time and nearly jumped out of her feet. The statue of Puria was replaced by a person she didn't recognized. The statue was that of a woman but instead of a warm, welcoming face, she has a wolf-like appearance. Her eyes seemed to stare down at her like a prey and her sharpened claws looked like she would tear her down to shreds.
"Is something the matter?" Janae asked worriedly. "It looks like you have seen a ghost!" Kyah opened her mouth but immediately shut it. She just convinced her friend that she was fine and she didn't want to be proven wrong. She looked up at the statue again and was comforted to see Puria looking at her again. "It's nothing," she responded. "I'm just tired. That's all." Patting her back understandably, her servant led her back to her room. But who was that other statue? Merzak perhaps? The thing was that she only read description about her but never seen a picture of the reviled goddess. Maybe her imagination was too vivid for her own good? Or maybe there is something else going on? These questions bothered her the rest of the day. This reminded her, there was something that bugged her...
"Janae, I have a question," she began. Janae nodded to show that she was listening while she preparing her bed. "Why do people worship Merzak? Wouldn't they be afraid that she would eat them?" Her friend flinched as if someone slapped her. That was then Kyah realized her mistake. Janae's entire village was decimated by a Merzakian troop long ago and she alone was the only survivor. Out of pity, the people in the temple had taken her in and trained her to work there. When Kyah first arrived at the temple, Janae was the first servant to welcome her and showed her around the place. That was then everyone decided that she would be Kyah's personal servant since they would always spend time together talking about their childhood. Feeling terrible, Kyah apologized, "I'm sorry, Janae. I almost forgot about what happened to your family..."
Her best friend smiled kindly and interrupted, "It's okay, Kyah. From what I've heard from my grandmother, the goddess Merzak promised her followers that she would guarantee that they will a bountiful harvest if they sacrifice her enemies to her. While people of Puria use sheep as sacrifice, her enemy uses human sacrifices." Kyah looked revolted after hearing that. "That's horrifying!" she declared. "Why on earth people would do that!?" Janae just shrugged to show her ignorance of the matter.
"I wouldn't think too much on it if I were you,” she said simply. "Someone needs her beauty sleep since she needs to get ready before dawn." Sticking her tongue out at her friend, Kyah went into her bed. Her friend then handed her a small cup. "What is it?" she asked as she sniffed the red concoction; it smelled like raspberries. Janae explained, "I wanted you to have a full night's rest so I asked the chef to make a sleeping potion so you won't have nightmares. Don't worry about the taste - I added a lot of honey to make it sweet." Taking a sip, Kyah noticed that it was sweet and finished her drink quickly.
"Oh!" she exclaimed as she was able to get out of bed again. "I forgot to inform the High Priest Juxes about tomorrow!" Her friend immediately pushed her down again and said, "I've already informed the Head Priest about the ceremony so everything is prepared for tomorrow. Don't worry about it. Go to bed." Kyah looked at her gratefully. "I swear, Janae," she said, "I don't know what I'll do without you." Her friend chuckled and pulled the curtains shut. As Kyah drifted off to sleep, she thought she heard her servant muttered softly, "Sleep well, Maiden" as she closed the door.
The sun still hasn't peeked out as Kyah and a procession of priests walked to the center of the temple. The priests sang a hymn praising the goddess as the glowing lanterns on their staffs swayed. Everything was going perfectly well so far, but Kyah still felt a little bit nervous. Through her veil, she glanced around her surroundings despite Janae's reassurances that the temple was under tight security. Sure enough, there were temple guards at almost every corner. With this many soldiers, there would be no way the Merzakians can sneak into the temple without someone's noticing.
With mind at ease, she could now focus on the ritual. The procession stopped in front of two enormous stone doors, where another priest along with two servants with bulky muscles awaited them. "Who come before the goddess?" he bellowed in a deep voice. Following traditions, Kyah bowed her head and answered, "It is I, her Beloved."
To which the priest questioned, "Why do you come before the goddess?" Still bowing her head, she replied, "To offer her my love and devotion."
She waited for a few seconds to hear the last question but there was silence. Worried that she must have messed up, she lifted her head slowly and saw that the priest was staring at her as if he was examining a bug which he was about to step on, which caused her to slightly shudder.
He must have noticed that she was looking at him because he cleared his throat and inquired bluntly, "How would you offer your gifts?" Blushing, she lowered her head slightly and said meekly, "I offer myself to serve her until the day I die."
"You may enter," the priest bellowed as the servants pushed the heavy doors open. "Remember, Beloved, where you stand. Come before the goddess humbled and obedient." She bowed her head again to show that she understood and continued her walk toward the altar. There the Head Priest Juxes awaited her. As Kyah and the others were walking through the columns, something caught the corner of her eyes. Janae put her finger to her lips and winked; the priestess smiled briefly. Knowing Janae, she was probably worried that something might go wrong and decided to sneak in during the ceremony to ensure that everything went well even though she would be severely punished if caught. She made a mental note to thank her friend after she was finished with her duties.
"Welcome, Maiden," High Priest Juxes intoned as she climbed the stairs. He bowed deeply toward her and offered her his hand, which she graciously accepted. "I'm so glad that you are able to perform your duties again after that harsh ordeal." Kyah nodded with agreement. "Thank you, Juxes," she acknowledged. "I must have been a burden during the whole time I was recuperating." The man just laughed and responded, "Not at all! I would rather you perform your duties when you're ready physically and mentally instead of feeling pressured to do so. Now, shall we begin?"
Raising his hands toward the heavens, the head priest faced the goddess statue behind the altar and called out, "Oh, Goddess, your Beloved has come and offered herself before you. Accept her gift to show your appreciation." After those words were said, a side door was opened and five men came in carrying a feisty sheep, which was to be sacrificed. Kyah immediately recognized the sheep as Meezy; that sheep was always a troublemaker. It took the men several minutes for them to climb up the stairs and tied the animal down on the altar. After making sure that the sheep couldn't break free, Juxes then continued the ritual. Handing her the ritual dagger, he said, "Your Maiden will now sacrificed this innocent sheep to you so that you will remember your promise."
Kyah took a deep breath and walked toward the sheep. Meezy was breathing heavily as she struggled from the ropes that tied her down. Stroking the animal affectionately, the priestess hummed a little melody to calm the sheep down. "It's okay, Meezy," she cooed as she looked at the sheep's terrified eyes. "I'll make it quick so you won't feel any pain. This is for Puria's sake." As she placed the knife at Meezy's throat, she experienced another horrible vision. Instead of the sheep, Este was tied down to the altar. She was pleading and crying as she attempted to break through the bindings that held her. She seemed to be trying to tell her something, but all Kyah heard was jumble.
Frightened, she, clutching the dagger tightly, staggered backward. The other priest exclaimed in surprise as they helped her back to her feet. "Are you all right?" one of them asked. "Your face is pale! Are you unwell?" Kyah glanced at the altar again and saw an exhausted Meezy staring back at her. "N-no, I'm fine," she answered shakily. "I was just nervous. Nothing else." Juxes looked at her concernedly. "Are you sure?" he replied. "We can always delay the ceremony to another date if you like."
Shaking her head, she countered stubbornly, "No, I'm ready." There was no way that she was going to let those Merzakians unhinge her from performing her responsibility! She immediately stormed up to the altar and quickly slashed the sheep's throat. As soon as she did the deed, she felt like a burden has lifted and everything was going to be fine again. Smiling happily, she turned to face the priests who wore a stunned expression at first but they returned her smile as well.
However, the feeling of bliss was abruptly ruined when a wounded soldier barged into the room. "The Merzakians! They're back!" he warned before a barrage of arrows silenced him. Suddenly a large army of Merzakians were approaching down the hallway; they were battling the temple guards who tried their best to block their ways. During the skirmish, some of the Merzakians were able to break through and ran toward them. The priests, whose other duty was to protect her, held their staff like a spear and immediately charged at them. The Head Priest Juxes grabbed one of the candle holders, which was next to the altar, and shouted as he ran into the battle, "Run, Maiden! I'll delay them!" Kyah just stood frozen with fear. Why? Why did they have to come back again?
Someone grabbed her hand and woke her up from her stupor. "Come on, Kyah!" Janae shouted. "We need to get out of here!" As they ran down the stairs, they stopped when they saw that a Merzakian stood in their way. Kyah's eyes widened - it was the same one who led the previous attack. Yelling furiously, Janae dropped her friend's hand and ran toward the enemy. That was when Kyah noticed that her servant was holding a knife. Did she have that the entire time? she wondered. Janae swung her knife at the Merzakian with lightning speed, but he easily dodged the attacks as he attempted to counterattack with his sword. The whole time, the Maiden just watched the battle, mystified. The Merzakian must have found an opening because he quickly stabbed her friend on her side. "No!" she spat as blood dripped from her mouth; her face was distorted with rage. "You won't have her back! She's mine!" With the last of her strength, she attempted one more charge, but her opponent just thrust his sword through her chest.
As soon as Kyah saw her friend's death, she realized that there was no one left to protect her. The Merzakian looked at her and tried to talk to her gently. Alarmed, she turned around and ran back to the altar. She heard the man shouted and gave chase. Reaching the altar, she became aware that she was trapped again. Approaching footsteps told her that her pursuer had caught up to her. Kyah turned around to face him and saw that he lowered his sword to the ground. He then walked toward her slowly as he talked to her quietly. She backed away from him until she felt something hard pressed against her back. A mixture of frustration and despair filled inside her; she was going to be captured again. She squeezed her eyes shut to prevent herself from crying.
A thought suddenly dawned on her. Her would-be kidnapper had a wary look on him for some reason while he was talking to her. Why was he being cautious unlike the last time? That was when she realized that she was holding something tightly. Opening her eyes slowly, Kyah looked at the ritual dagger in her hands. That was probably why the Merzakian was being careful. She pointed the weapon at the man shakily and warned, "Don't come any closer... or I'll..." The man hesitated for a moment as if he was thinking of his options. Kyah was also confounded about what to do. Maybe she should attack the man and escape? There were the others though and there was no way she could beat all of them...
The Merzakian must have noticed that she was distracted; the next thing she noticed, he lunged at her. Startled, she closed her eyes and wildly swung the dagger. She heard the man grunted as she gave him minor cuts; nevertheless, he ignored his pain and grabbed her tightly by the wrists to force her to drop her weapon. Kyah became hysteric and sobbed repeatedly, "Let me go! Let me go!" The man was shaking her roughly and shouting at her as if he was pleading. She refused to listen and continued to scream desperately for help. Why wasn't Roku here? she thought dejectedly. Didn't he promise to protect her?
That was when she heard his voice. "Wake up, Kyah! Please open your eyes!" She slowly opened her eyes and saw that her brother was holding her. His arms were covered with cuts and he was covered with dirt and dried blood. "Roku?" she asked confusedly as she dropped the knife. "How did you get here so fast? Where is that Merzakian? The one who grabbed me?" Her brother shook his head sadly and responded, "I came to rescue you. You thought that I was a Merzakian and tried to attack me."
Confused, she stammered, "Re-rescue me? But didn't you save me..." She looked around her surroundings and noticed that it was unfamiliar. The temple walls were made out of human bones and corpses hung from the ceiling. She cautiously peered past her brother's shoulder and saw the dead bodies of the Merzakian priests lying in their blood. Janae's corpse still sprawled on the stairs. That was when she reached a horrifying conclusion. She started to turn around, but her brother begged, "Don't look, Kyah. It's something you don't want to see." In spite of Roku's warning, she looked back at the altar and what she saw confirmed her fear. Este's dead body lay on the black marble altar and her throat was slashed. Her terrified and pleading eyes seemed to pierce into her soul and accuse her of her sins.
Images from the past few weeks flashed their Kyah's mind and revealed the truth to her. The hallucinations of the slaves and the statue of Merzak were real then, but those were not the ones that alarmed her. It was the horrifying fact that she was eating human flesh. So the entire time she wasn't serving Puria; she was serving Merzak... The last thing she heard was her own bloodcurdling scream.
Roku surveyed the devastation. The Merzakian capital was still burning and many dead bodies covered the streets. Some of the Purian soldiers were gathering prisoners together; they will later have their tongues cut off and will be sold as slaves. Those who were able to escape fled to the nearby forest so a small party went out to search for them. Even though the Purians were victorious today, he didn't feel like celebrating; in fact he felt drained and exhausted.
A small band of horsemen drew near so Roku straightened himself. One of the men got off his horse and went up to him. Commander Haden reminded him of a kindly but strict grandfather. He was the one who took Roku under his wings during his training; because of that, there were rumors that the commander was planning to groom him to be next in line. After saluting each other, Haden inquired, "Your report, Captain?"
"Most of the enemies were decimated," the young soldier answered. "The remaining few scattered throughout the nearby region but a small search party is looking for them right now. As for the Maiden, we were able to rescue her, but she has been..." His superior nodded understandably; everyone knew the reason why Roku decided to join the Temple's Guards. "And of the traitor?" the older man asked.
"She's been dealt with," Roku replied severely. His men had already cut off her head, which would be hung on a pike near the temple to remind others what happens to traitors. Her limbs were also dismembered and would be scattered across land so that the vultures would savage the carcass. He cussed himself for not listening to his intuition; there was something about Janae that he didn't like. His suspicion led his comrades and him to that woman's burnt-out village to investigate her story. Even though she claimed that she was the only survivor, Este and some of his men found others, who were hiding in the nearby woods. After being reassured that the rescuers were friends, the scared and paranoid villagers revealed the truth. According to them, Janae was the one who led the Merzakian raiders to the village and personally killed her own family.
After learning the truth, Roku remembered rushing straight to the temple to warn the others only to find out that he was too late. Most of the people in the temple were killed or captured and his sister was missing. Likewise, her servant has disappeared as well. However, a scout has spotted the kidnappers running through the field ten miles away... Without thinking, he urged his exhausted horse after them and his men willingly followed as well. He didn't know how but they were able to catch up with the enemy. A small skirmish soon erupted. During the battle, a small band of Merzakians fled with his sister, and he noticed that Janae was with them as well. She noticed him and gave him a taunting smirk, which infuriated him. He tried to go after them, but unfortunately, three Merzakians blocked his way so he couldn't go forward. That was when Este and four of his men gave chase and disappeared into the darkness. That was the one of the regrets he had from that terrible night - besides the fact that he didn't save Kyah, he didn't confess his true feeling toward the person he most considered his confidante beforehand.
Haden nodded his approval. "You did well, Roku," he praised him, "in spite of the fact that this battle was very personal to you. I'm terribly sorry about your sister and Este. Este died doing her duty and she would want you to be proud of her." A disbelieving Roku didn't say anything so the man continued, "Go check on your sister. My men and I will go around inspecting the battlefield." They saluted each other again and went on their separate ways.
Roku walked over to the makeshift medical camp where the wounded were being taken care of. He walked past the large tent where he heard the moans of the injured men and women. Instead, he headed to a lone tent resting near an oak tree; several servants scurried through the tent's opening, which was guarded by two of his men. They saluted him as soon as they saw him and he nodded at them to acknowledge them. Roku was about to enter the tent when he accidentally bumped into an old, plump woman.
The High Servant Nanzi glared at him as if it was his fault for not paying attention. He has always despised that woman, whom he viewed as self-righteous and condescending. She probably felt the same way as well based on the death glares she gave him whenever she saw him. Even though Commander Hodan ordered her to remain back in the temple, she insisted that she comes along since her successor was in grave danger.
In spite of his feelings toward her, Roku decided to be civilized. "How is she?" he asked as he bit the side of his mouth to prevent himself from sounding rude. The woman examined him before answering, "She's doing well for now. We were able to give her medicines to calm her nerves though it took several medics to restrain her. Unfortunately, her mind has been... how can I say it? It has been closed off."
Frowning, Roku inquired, "What do you mean 'closed off'?" Nanzi gave him a stern look and answered bluntly, "She would most likely refuse to face reality. In a way, she would be just like a young child." Roku felt disheartened when he heard the news. His young sweet sister was nothing more than an empty husk. "How?" he demanded. "What did those brutes do to her to cause this!?"
"From what we believe," the High Servant clarified, "they most likely cast an illusion spell on her so that she believed that she was back home in the temple. That traitor was there to make sure that illusion was believable and report any inconsistencies that would raise suspicions." Spatting the ground, she muttered, "Blah! All that time wasted finding my successor just to see her ruined! Maybe the next one won't be feeble-minded."
Roku could no longer contain his anger upon hearing those disparaging words about Kyah. "Don't you dare say that about my sister, you wench!" he yelled furiously. The next moment he felt something slapped the left side of his face and he saw stars as someone nearby gasped in disbelief. Nanzi's right hand was red from hitting him so hard and she gave him a deafening glare. "Know your place, Captain!" she snapped as she rubbed the hand she used to slap him. He noticed that the uncomfortable guards tried their best to not to look at them while those nearby stared in shock at the scene. Being stubborn, he refused to rub his injured cheek and turned to face that woman.
"What will happen to my sister then?" he said through his clenched teeth; he would not apologize no matter what! Nanzi looked displeased about it and was about to scold him for it when she stopped herself. Instead she took a deep breath and answered, "We decided that it would be best that she no longer be near the temple since it deemed to be too traumatic for her. There is a village near the temple where I have a friend who would tend to her every need. She will be well taken care of, I promise."
"And what about our family?" he questioned. "Do they know about this?" His parents and siblings were filled with pride when they found out that their little girl was chosen to be the next Maiden. If they found out about this incident, they would be humiliated that Kyah had brought shame to the family. "We will lie and tell them that she died fighting against her kidnappers," Nanzi explained. "They don't need to know the truth." Roku nodded slowly; his family would be ignorant then. The former Maiden continued, "I better let you visit her. I expect an apology for your disrespectful behavior by tomorrow or else I have your superiors give you a harsh punishment!" With that being said, she stormed off.
After seeing her leave, Roku entered the tent. The environment seemed so tranquil and calming compared to what was happening outside. Kyah lay on a makeshift bed; her soft breathing told him that she was sound asleep. Two medics were tending to her now, and they looked up when they heard him enter. They gave him a kindly look and took their leave. "She needs her rest so don't too long," one said softly as they left the tent.
Hesitating, he just stood there and looked at his sister. She looked so peaceful and gentle as she slept. Who would have thought she had experienced something so traumatic? After a few minutes, he finally took his first step and went over to her bed. Sitting down on the edge of her bed, he held Kyah's hand and sat there in silence. He wanted to beg for her forgiveness because he didn't keep his promise to her, but for some reason, his mouth wouldn't open. Frustrated, he cussed himself and everyone he felt was responsible. Why didn't he just follow his instincts and kill that traitor when he had the chance? Why did Kyah have to suffer? Why was she chosen to be the Maiden of Puria? What was the purpose if she was just considered a toy to both factions?
He abruptly felt something inside him urged him to action. For some reason, he knew that he needed to take his little sister and leave this place immediately. Glancing to make sure that the nurses were not lingering around, he gently lifted Kyah out of her bed and carried her. The two guards were surprised to see him holding her when he went through the opening. "Sir, are you allowed to do th-" one of them asked nervously before he quieted down; Roku must have a scary expression on his face because they shifted their feet anxiously.
"I'm going on ahead," he lied. "I think it would be best for her if she is with someone she recognized. If she sees a lot of unfamiliar people, she might panic." His men nodded to show that they understood his reasoning. "But, Captain," the other soldier countered, "are you sure that it's a good idea? What if you were ambushed by the Merzakians? There would be no way you can fight them by yourself!"
"I'm going to be fine," he reassured them. "No one will attack me." Somehow he knew that they will be fine, but he couldn't explain why. He looked at the men expectantly, but he was relieved to see that they didn't protest. They didn't look happy about his decision though but they figured out that there was no way to convince him otherwise. "Should we tell Nanzi and the commander then?" one of them asked.
He hesitated. Knowing Nanzi, she would prevent them from leaving and forbid him to near Kyah again. Haden might get suspicious about his motives and ordered guards to follow them. However, if he kept it a secret, that would raise red flags as well. "Do as you must," he decided. "I'm going to take my leave now." Without looking back, he walked to his horse, which was close by, and saddled him up. Carefully, he lifted Kyah up on his horse and then pulled himself up as well. After making sure that no one pays attention to them, he quietly left the place.
They traveled westward for several hours. Even though Roku didn't fully recognized the environment, he somewhat noticed that the surroundings looked familiar. This was the route they used when they went on their rescue mission. They had hurried through this region without even stopping to rest, but he did make quick glances to memorize their location in case they got lost. Sure enough, he found a smooth black rock on the ground and a dried up shrub a couple feet away. He looked down to check on his sister. Kyah leaned against his chest; she was still sound asleep. What was she dreaming? he wondered as he encouraged his horse to move forward. Was it something pleasant?
Suddenly, he urged his horse to halt. They had stopped at the crossroads. Roku then realized what he had done. Why did he leave the camp? He had never disobeyed orders before, and he knew the punishment for insubordination was death. Something or someone had told him to leave with his sister though. Was it his instinct or the goddess Puria? He had never been a religious man and if it wasn't because of Kyah, he would have never volunteered to join the Temple Guards. Perhaps... Roku shook his head. He's not a philosopher so he won't dwell too much on it. Right now, he needed to decide on what to do next.
If he continued westward, he would reach the village that Nanzi talked about. He heard about that specific village and from what he learned, it's for people who were not "typical" and the caretakers treated them like babies. There was no way he was going to leave his sister there to be someone's doll! Another idea was to take her home, but he immediately dismissed it. What Nanzi said was true - his parents would look at Kyah in shame and refused to accept her back to the village.
Roku was about to be filled with despair when he recalled something that Este told him long ago. When she was young, her father, who was a merchant, took her to a fishing village near the coast. Este said that the villagers never heard of the story of Puria and Merzak. In fact, they didn't think too much about gods and goddesses; all they focused on were the fish. From what he remembered, the fishing village was southwest from his location. The journey would be very long and difficult, but his training had prepared him for those situations. Besides, he knew how to hunt during his time back home.
With that being decided, he adjusted Kyah to make sure that she was comfortable and stroke her hair gently. He thought he noticed her smiling, which made him feel like he made the right decision. He turned his horse to the direction he was planning to go and quickly rode off to the place where his sister and he can live in peace.
good work riki. i was suspecting Janae all the ways. I even thought she was Merzak in disguise. i also predicted she was under an illusion or a spell all the time, however i never expected that ending. I was expecting something flashy or fantasy-like happening in the end, an awakening, a miracle or something like that
It was a bit sad at the end. In a way you can say Merzak won.
The part of Janae wasn't in my original draft, but it just came about. She was originally supposed to a Merzakian disguised as Janae but I later decided to make her into a traitor because it would make more sense imo.
Anyhow, I'm currently working on a novel. It is in the same universe but in the distant future. However, there will be a hint about Roku and Kyah in the first chapter.