by Rob Steiner
Fatimah pushed her way through the cheering Tuathans standing on Tsall’s piers, most of them pointing at the two ships a half-mile away. She could not share in their joy, for she not only had abandoned her Master to death at the hands of a Fomorian and a harrower, but she may have just given them Taran Abraeu by removing the barrier around him.
Dylan Edoss called out to her. As always, his Shadarlak surrounded him, all of their uniforms torn, dirty, and stained with blood.
“Where is Taran?” he asked.
Fatimah shook her head. “I think he was taken.”
His eyes narrowed. “Taken?”
Looking around the beach, Edoss asked, “The Fomorians were on the beach?”
“No,” Fatimah said, unable to form the right words through her haze of fear and guilt. “They took him.”
She pointed in the direction in which she last saw Taran snatched like a fish on a hook. She could still see his limbs flailing sickeningly like he was already dead.
“It was like they reached down from the sky and grabbed him,” she said. “I saw him…flying that way.”
A male Tuathan voice from behind her said, “Fatimah.”
Fatimah turned. A Heshman walked toward her carrying Eblin in his arms. Eblin looked more disheveled than Fatimah had ever seen her—hair matted with sweat and mud, woolen cloak torn. But when her eyes found Fatimah, she gave her Apprentice a weary smile. She was alive.
Fatimah ran to Eblin and took her hand. Eblin said to the Heshman, “You may put me down now, thank you.”
The Heshman lowered Eblin’s feet to the sand, and Eblin stood shakily. Fatimah put Eblin’s arm around her shoulder to steady her, and Eblin did not protest.
“There are only two ships,” Eblin said, watching the ships grow closer. “There were four, but two were sunk in a harrower attack just behind that peninsula.” Lowering her voice and glancing about, Eblin said, “There is not enough room for everyone.”
“Damn,” Edoss said. In a low voice, he said, “These people are already in a panic. What are they going to do when they find out the ships can’t take them all?”
Eblin frowned. “They will accept our new plan, I think. The Master Circle has decided that most of the priests and the Heshman shall remain behind and travel through the Guardians up the coast to Markwatch. I would suggest, Dylan Edoss, that you and your men accompany us.”
Dylan nodded grimly. “Yes. That shaves off 150 people.” Squinting at the arriving ships, Dylan said, “It’ll be a tight fit, but they should accommodate the rest.”
Eblin said to Fatimah, “You and I will accompany our people on the ships, along with two more priests on the second ship. We will take Taran Abraeu with us…”
Eblin stopped speaking when she saw Fatimah’s face. She looked around. “Where is Taran Abraeu? Speaker Edoss, we had an agreement—”
Before Dylan could answer, Fatimah said, “It is my fault, Master. I released the barrier around him so that he could help the Heshmen and the Recindians fight the Tainted.”
Dylan’s eyes widened. “That was Taran? He destroyed the Tainted?”
Fatimah nodded. “But after he did so, he was…pulled…through the sky, in that direction.”
She pointed to where the road from Fedalan entered Tsall. She said to Eblin, “Ladak must have him by now.”
Eblin suddenly looked tired, as if her age and the events of the past month had caught her all at once. She sighed. “He is lost to us, then.”
“No,” Fatimah said. “We cannot leave him. He just saved our people from destruction! They would have all been slaughtered if not for him.”
“Yes,” Eblin said, “and he Wielded Angra to do it.”
Fatimah shook her head. “I know but…he saved us…”
“It does not matter,” Eblin said patiently. “The more he Wields Angra, the more he will become like the Fomorians, regardless of any good intentions he may have. And now that he is in the hands of one… He will become a harrower, if he has not already.”
“He will resist!”
“He will not have a choice,” Eblin said in a tone that was meant to end the debate. “Now, you will accompany me to the pier where we will lead our people—”
“I will not,” Fatimah said.
Eblin’s face sagged. “You will, priest.”
Fatimah shook her head, not quite understanding why she was disobeying her Master, something that meant excommunication from the priesthood, all for a man who had just Wielded Angra in front of her. But she did know that her dreams would never again be peaceful if she left Taran behind. He had saved the six priests at the Heiron during the initial Tainted attack, and he had just saved the Tuathans on the beach from horrible deaths when he could have just ran when Fatimah released his barrier. But he did not. He did not have the heart of a Fomorian. He was the Zervakan. Only Ahura knew why she was so certain of it, but she was.
“I…I cannot leave him,” she said. “I have to try. I am sorry, Master.”
Eblin whispered, “Fatimah, please…”
Fatimah turned and ran toward the small road through Tsall, trying to forget Eblin’s pleading eyes. She was half way through the town’s main road when she heard Dylan Edoss behind her, calling for her to stop a moment. Knowing she would be unable to outrun his Shadarlak, she stopped, then turned and said, “You are not going to stop me from—”
“I wasn’t going to stop you,” Edoss said, breathing heavy. “I want to help you.”