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I'm hoping for a miracle. A chance to see the light of day again.
A chance to see any light again.
This cell is...so black. I can't see anything. Not even my hand in front of my face. A sharp ache in my legs reminds me that I’ve been standing ever since I was chained to this wall. I sink down, and my arms are yanked up sharply. I bite my lip to keep from crying out.
A rusty voice asks, "Are you all right, ya'dlihc?"
My temper flares, then settles. Ya'dlihc is a condescending term for one younger than you. For this person to use it so quickly, they must be old. Very old. "Yes, tanueica." A mark of respect for one who has survived longer than I.
The rust-voice pauses for a moment. “How many summers?”
"Sixteen when the leaves turn." I will see the leaves turn. I have to. I must.
Another pause, accompanied by heavy breathing. "You won't see another turn of leaves, ya'dlihc. Forget the leaves, you won’t see another turn of skies.” I have to believe I will see the leaves turn again. I have to believe that I will leave the blackness.
A child’s quiet voice pushes against the oppressive blindness. "Why're you here?"
Why am I here? Because an age and an age ago, one of my people did one of the guard a wrong turn. Because of who I am, because of the people who took me in when I was not yet five summers and on the streets. "Because I’m one of the saredan."
I hear no gasps, no cloth rustling against stone. The silence inside the cell is more unnerving than the fear and hate I am used to. Traditionally - and Kaepsia is rooted in tradition – the saredan are demons or at least demonic in nature. Everyone believes this.
Except, of course, the saredan.
The child’s voice is the first thing to break the oppressive quiet. "Will you tell a story?"
"About your city. I heard the saredan have a city underground."
I start to refuse, but the child’s question has struck a chord in my heart. The innocence and pain in his voice pulls me back to another small child, wounded and dying, asking for a story.
How can I deny him again?
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "All right then. A story.” An old tale nudges at the tip of my tongue, and I let it slip off and into the silence.
"At the beginning of the world, a being came from each of the six elements. These beings were made purely of one element, and thereafter ruled the element. The goddess of sun and war took the name Kyennin. Her twin, the goddess of moon and knowledge, called herself Kieni. The third god to come into being was Htrae, the Lord of Earth and Building. The fourth was Erith, Lord of Fire and Death. The last two gods, because their elements were always in motion, took longer than all the others to take shape. Their names were Aeris, Lord of Water and Change, and Ria, Lady of Air and Healing.
"The six gods lived in peace and harmony.Their place of dwelling was a beautiful garden, where it was impossible to create anything that did not add to the garden's splendor. But then life in the garden grew monotonous, as any unbroken routine will. The gods were displeased with this. What they truly wanted was to have something that needed attention and change as time passed. They determined to create an imperfect place, something they could fix as the ages passed by. So Htrae made a piece of earth that stretched farther than even the gods could see in any direction. And he walked about it and made high mountains and deep valleys, and he placed forests of trees and fields of flowers. For, being Lord of Earth, he had also dominion over the growing things. Ria made the winds to blow far and wide, and she and Aeris created sky-water, that which falls and nourishes us. Aeris created streams, rivers, and in the deepest valleys, seas. Erith gave the world its deep inner fire.
"Kyennin and Kieni battled for supremacy in the skies until finally they agreed to divide the day in half, as well as the seasons-cycle. Kyennin would reign during summer, and Kieni would have domain over the winter. The sisters made peace after this.
"The gods combined all of their elements and created a namah, one of us. The namah loved her world, but after a handful of sun-and-moon-times, she grew lonely. The gods used their powers to create another namah, but this one was modeled after the three gods instead of the goddesses. They learned that they loved to make these namah, so they made hundreds.
"Erith became angry at his fellow gods after a fight and released fire-creatures on the world. The namah created an underground city with a hidden entrance to protect themselves from the fire-creatures. They hid there for an age, and when they emerged, the world had changed.
"The gods could not fix what had been done, and Erith became deeply regretful. The Ravages are what came of the rampaging fire-creatures. As the namah slowly emerged from their underground city, they saw possibility where the gods saw only ruin. They named the hidden city Avenah, and remembered it as a shelter in the worst of times. To show their thanks, they made it beautiful.
"Kaepsia grew and continued to grow. New cities were built, new roads were trod. And even so, ages will pass and history will become legend. Avenah was not remembered, and the gods were forgotten except by a very few. These were children who had learned the old ways. They found their way to Avenah and took in those who found themselves abandoned and alone.
"Because none knew where they came from, they were called demons. They call themselves saredan, the wanderers. And to this day, nobody else knows where they come from or to where they return.”
The child says wistfully, "Is that really how the world was created?" I am silent. My hands had recalled the time-worn carvings on the walls of Avenah, the swift motions of healing, the feel of fragile scrolls unrolling.
I snap back to the present as pounding footsteps approach. My ears focus, trying to discern the sounds and tell what's coming. The door to our dungeon crashes open. A lantern’s bright light fills the cell.
A guardsman comes over to me and unchains me from the wall. He pushes me, hard, and I stumble. A yank on the shackles stops me before I fall to my knees.
My chains weigh me down and chafe at my ankles and wrists. We approach a door, and I struggle, knowing that through it is only pain.
A door swings open. Hands push me forward. I fall, to my knees this time. A crowd looks back at me over the scaffolding of a gallows.
They think I am a demon.
They're wrong, but I will hang for their fears.
Please, Erith, let me go quickly.