It was a sorely-won victory. Though the group had succeeded at their mission, they had only narrowly avoided disaster. And the deeds, though done willingly, sat uneasily in their stomachs. They had framed the Tathatan Dwarf Mamputra, who would now surely be executed for sorcery. And they’d murdered citizen Dugo in cold blood. Tass, Mo-tse, Tse-dong, and Bayar plodded back toward Kong Wan in silence, distant and preoccupied.
Each of them, in their own way, called out to the powers that held sway over the world. Prayers in private moments passed their lips.
Late in the night, or rather early in the morning, Tass prayed to her deity, Viru:
It was an easy thing. As if I was snatching candy thrown by a child. My healer’s hand found his vein and I opened a deep jagged wound that gushed his life up and out onto the street.
My own cut into my scalp mixed my blood with his and I lied like a whore to any who would listen. Pointing at the defenseless man whose neck I had just opened, “Murderer!” I yelled, covered in blood. “Murderer!”
Part of me screamed to come to his aid as another part wished with all my heart that no one would be able to heal him in time. If he lived, the truth would come and I would be found out.
Even now, hours later, some of the blood still stains my hands. I wash them again.
When evil befalls evil men is that evil or good? If it’s by my hand, does the answer change? Since my parent’s death, at every turn of the moon the eyes in the mirror look different, the girl behind them was truly a sheltered thing before their passing. What kind of thing am I now?
I am growing up fast. Today I killed my first man and helped arrange for an innocent priest to be arrested for sorcery. A crime he will undoubtedly be put to death for.
I wonder what I will do tomorrow….
Meanwhile, Mo-tse, who had only escaped certain execution by the skin of his teeth, called out to the goddess Wu-Yu as “Yaj Yeeb”. Yaj Yeeb was actually the name of his religion, but Mo-tse, whether out of affection or ignorance, took the name for his very own goddess.
O Yaj Jeeb, it’s me, Mo Tse.
Sorry I haven’t prayed in a while. I don’t think there’s many Yaj Jeebers around here. I’ve been praying to that Viru guy a lot. But don’t worry, it’s only because Bayar seems to like him. I still like you too.
There’s a lot to tell you. Today was the best day! I got to sleep in jail for 12 straight hours and no one interrupted me. They gave me a meal and my brother acted like an idiot to get me out. Before that, I got manhandled by this giant orc chick with a wooden spoon as a weapon. Or maybe it was a paddle for a boat. I don’t know, it’s weird here in the city. BUT I did get to invade a sacred place, and eat like 10 pakoras. And we blamed this dumb priest for all the sorcery! Wow I bet he isn’t too happy. Hey if you see his god please don’t tell him it was me who did it. Just say it was Bayar. Or Tse Dong! No… they’ve been alright lately. Okay just say it was that guy that Tass killed outside the temple. He’s already in Hell so who cares right? Yeah just blame him.
I have some spoils to report. First off I still have my crossbow. I dedicate every shot to you. Secondly we got bones from the ruined city. Some are from a parent who died willingly and some are from a kid who was killed by his parents. He likes horses. I tried to sort them out with Tass so we know which are which. If you show me some more grimoire spells somewhere, I will put those bones to good work for you. Third I have Tse Dong’s lucky yak horn. I know it isn’t worth much but it sure pisses him off that he can’t find it. I will hold onto it until he gets so desperate he makes some offerings to try to find it again. Then I’ll leave it on his bed. It will be like a miracle, except real! No offense.
Okay anyway I should wrap this up. As you know it is my policy never to ask for something in a prayer. I don’t want to be selfish or needy. Just this one time however, as a special exception, and only because it is really important, I have to ask you a favour. I need you to make me richer than the Governor himself! I can’t tell you why yet. You just have to trust me. Also we are out of yaks. If you can send 20 head of yak my way I will praise your name. Also I don’t think the girls in this town are very clean. Can you introduce me to a nice goblin girl? But not too nice. Also I am a little worried about getting out of the city without being searched. Can you make sure the guards don’t search us? Also I miss Kanya. Can you tell her to meet us back at the villa? Also, I know last week I prayed for Tse Dong to get bed bugs, but he was pretty nice this week, can you reverse that? Besides if he gets bed bugs I will probably get them too. That was pretty short sighted of you! Ha! Oh well. It’s okay Yaj Jeeb, I understand. But I could really use a helmet to go with this rhino armour. Maybe if you can help me find a helmet then I will forget about the bed bug thing. ALSO the food here is terrible, can you help us get more feasts like that time at Gansalahee’s? Also I kind of feel we were ripped off on sister’s dowry because we were in a hurry, so if I can become a wealthy landowner, that would balance that out even steven.
Okay, you know I hate to ask for favours so I won’t ask for anything else. I don’t want to get extravagant. I am just your humble servant. And one day I will be the greatest thief in the world! I’ll dedicate all my spoils to you. They will never catch me because of all my sorcery. But first you need to get me MORE sorcery.
Thank you Yaj Jeeb…
P.S. When I become the greatest thief I will give you huge offerings and pour rice wine on golden statues of you every full moon!! Promise! OK gotta go.
Elsewhere and for different reasons, Mo-tse’s brother Tse-dong also uttered a prayer. He addressed it to the god of the Imperial cult, He Whose Avatar Is the Emperor:
Blessings be upon Your Holy Name, and the New Peace.
Continue to shower advantage and power down upon Your Most Unworthy Servant—my brother Mo-Tse
As for me, all I ask is that you let me to continue to shape and use these fools as my superior intellect was made to do.
You will permit me to use them and fashion them into my perfect pawns.
Because if you don’t..
I am coming for You.
Most High Future Emperor Lau Tse-Dong
Tse-dong finished with his prayer with a self-satisfied look on his face. One wonders whether a god of Empire would punish or praise such ambition.
At the same time, Bayar, the only one among them who was actually a priest of Viru, wrestled with his conscience. His sleep was restless the first night on the road back to Kong Wan. He lied awake, his thoughts flooded with his beloved deity. He left his bedroll and wandered a few strides away from camp. He collapsed to his knees under the weight of his actions.
How perfect was the irony that he sought the Sun-Prince in the darkest of night.
Your vibrance cuts through the darkness of this night and its radiance prevents my slumber. My conscience is a turmoil without compare this night. It is all too clear that my actions have not gone unnoticed. As soon as I come to know what it means to help those who plot against you, I am bid – ordered – to undertake the opposite.
Why must I be tested so?
My heart longs to be closer to yours, to be bathed in your warmth. Give me the courage to do what is right, and the insight to know the difference. Please, Savior, grant me wisdom.
The spring night answered only with chill winds and darkness. Bayar looked back at his sleeping compatriots. Tass tossed and turned, her hair tousled and no longer so innocent-looking. Meanwhile, Mo-tse coddled his crossbow, and Tse-dong smiled the smile of an emperor on his throne. How different they all were, and yet they all shared the blood on their hands.