After getting out of Kanaxa, the Lau brothers decided to stay with their sister Tse-i for a few days, while Tass and Bayar pushed on to Kong Wan. Along the way, they encountered a frustrated-looking Tathatan woman shouting at soldiers, who refused to let her through the checkpoint. Giving up on them, she turned around to recognize Bayar, and he immediately recognized her as well.
“Sri Kathiri!” he said. She was the leader of one of the two great factions of the Tathatan religion, successor to Sri Mahani. He had met her but once, after the infamous riots of the Winter Solstice in Kong Wan (see Chapter 1 Broke and Hungry in Kong Wan). Their two religions were enemies, and Bayar had no idea how she would react.
Sri Kathiri’s expression went from anger, to thoughtfulness, to clever planning. She said, “When last we met I said we were enemies, but I hoped one day Thauma would bring us together to share peace. Today, I offer that peace to you. Anshana mata patanhir.”
And she bowed deeply. Then she invited him to join in her a drink at a roadside inn.
Bayar, surprised, agreed. After about an hour of sizing each other up, Kathiri finally made her purpose known. The situation for Tathatans in Kong Wan has been worsening, and she fears that something dreadful may happen. She has prepared a system of safe-houses to get Tathatans out, but due to Prince Bayanhongor’s new ban on the travel of Tathatans, she cannot get the scroll with the information into Kong Wan. She cautiously entreated Bayar to help her in this matter.
Bayar thought back to the letter in which his colleague in faith Jing-a wrote of a vision, a vision suggesting that to advance in their faith, they must help those to whom they would normally be opposed (see Chapter 9 The Epistles of Bayar and Jinga). Perhaps this was a challenge sent by Viru to test Bayar’s faith.
“I will aid you in this matter,” said Bayar.
Sri Kathiri handed over a scroll case.
“Give this to Rvati, one of the few I can trust to unite the Tathatans of Kong Wan in this matter.”
She was careful to mention that magic had been spoken over the seal, so that if it was broken by a non-Tathatan, she would immediately know.
Bayar and Tass then took their leave of the Tathatan leader, and made their way back to Kong Wan.
When they arrived, they soon found things changed. First, some violence had erupted when news of the Kanaxa sorcery scandal hit, resulting in the deaths of two Tathatans and injuries for several other citizens. Second, all Tathatans were now confined by Governor’s orders to a section of the city called the “Tathatan Ward.” Finally, some of the city’s youth had banded together for added defense into a group calling themselves “Viru’s Vanguard.”
It was not long before the group encountered these ambitious youth. As they neared the fountain, they saw a commotion up ahead. A gang of youth, not more than sixteen years old, wearing gold and purple sashes and carrying wooden cudgels, were harassing a stranger in a cloak with xenophobic slogans and cudgel blows. Tass (once again in her Orc boy disguise) and Bayar quickly joined the fray to break up the hostilities. Bayar used his Thunder’s Voice spell to chastise them, and the frightened youth quickly scattered.
Tass and Bayar found that the stranger was no common traveler. Beneath the cloak lied a sable-black feline face. This was one of the rare slave race called Tabaxi.
The Tabaxi thanked her rescuers and introduced herself as Magsa. Tass and Bayar asked where her master was, but she replied that she had none. She was a free slave, and showed them her deed of freedom. Examining it closely, Tass determined that it was authentic. Then they invited Magsa to stick close to them for her own safety.
Magsa explained the reason she came to Kong Wan was to find others of her kind. Tabaxi were rare in the Empire, and free Tabaxi still more rare. She had heard there was a Tabaxi in Kong Wan, employed at The Empire, a high-class inn patronized by Lord Gansalahi. But the exclusive inn would not even open its door to her.
Bayar quickly volunteered to give her an “in” with The Empire, though Tass cautioned her against trusting Gansalahi. With Bayar’s help, Magsa was able to speak with inn’s doorman, Pagarasuna, and learned that the rumor of a Tabaxi working there was false. Pagarasuna did, however, offer to employ Magsa.
“We’ve been trying to get a Tabaxi for some time,” he explained. “Unfortunately they keep dying en route from Shen Bei.”
Magsa summarily declined the offer, and the two went on their way.
Two other items of note that learned by listening to the talk of the town were that Princess Atas’ army was delayed, apparently due to an outbreak of some kind of disease, and that a new cult called the “Sweepers” had taken up residence in the town. They wear full-body garments with only a narrow slit for the eyes, and sweep the path before them as they walk.
Then they saw a prison wagon carrying Tathatan soldiers in the direction of the Tathatan Ward. Strangely, the soldiers still had their arms and armor even inside the prison wagon. A look of fear and suspicion was in their eyes.
With that, Tass, Bayar, and Magsa made their way to the Tathatan Ward to attempt to deliver Sri Kathiri’s message. At the gate, they noticed that the wooden palisade enclosing the ward was topped with spikes that angled outward, not inward. Smoke and the scent of burning flesh was in the air.
Speaking with the guards at the gate, they were unable to secure entry. Only Tathatans were allowed inside. They said they were looking for Rvati, and the guards replied that they’d found her.
“Smell that?” said one of the guards. “That’s her.”
Rvati was unfortunately one of the two killed in the violence the night that news of the Kanaxa sorcery scandal hit. So, the mission for Sri Kathiri seemed frustrated. They couldn’t get inside the ward, and furthermore the person they were looking for was no longer among the living.
But never the type to give up, and ever resourceful, the group found a way in. Bayar spoke with Jing-a of the Lepers, and secured access via their underground network of tunnels.
The newcomer Magsa, who was adept at stealth, led the way out of the tunnels and into the Ward. They found themselves in an alley, with patrols of Tathatan guards marching by in the streets.
Unlikely to get far by stealth, the group turned themselves in to the guards, and demanded to see the leaders of the community, for they had a message from Sri Kathiri. The guards were suspicious of their claims, but in any case it was the Council of Elders that needed to decide their fate anyway, so they escorted them to meeting of elders already in progress.
Tass, Bayar, and Magsa attempted to persuade the Tathatans to leave Kong Wan, as Sri Kathiri had planned. But they soon found that many Tathatans were not at all inclined to do so. It turned out that for months Governor Pong-chi had been dealing with their community personally, providing for their safety as public anti-Tathatan sentiment worsened. The Tathatan Ward, they insisted, was created not to confine them but to protect them.
An aged Tathatan with a long white beard spoke magic over the message and divined that it was authentic, coming from the hand of Sri Kathiri, but this was not enough to convince the council. Too many were of Sri Gunda’s faction and would not support Kathiri, the successor to the late Sri Mahani. Without concrete evidence that the Governor was working against the Tathatans, they would not leave Kong Wan.
Just then there was a commotion in the street. All rushed out to find that five soldiers – of the same group of soldiers seen earlier in the prison wagon – had gone rabid and were randomly attacking people in the street. Their disease was grimly apparent to Bayar and Tass, for they had seen it before, though up to this point only in animals. The soldiers’ eyes and tongues bore black splotches – the mark of the mysterious new illness they had dubbed the “black pox.”
Several Tathatan guards rushed in to detain the rabid men, but the superior training of the soldiers was more than their match. One by one, the guards were cut down by the cold steel of the diseased fighters.
Meanwhile, Tass and Bayar attempted to take the soldiers down without hurting them unduly. Magsa had the idea of using a clothesline rope to restrain them. She tied a rock around one end and tossed it to a guard on the opposite side of the fray. Pulling the rope taut, they managed to force the soldiers up against a wall. Then the others were able to disarm them and get further ropes around them. Before long, the soldiers’ threat was neutralized, and they were taken away to a makeshift hospital. The Ward was safe again, though the toll was high. Four of the guards lied slain, gone to meet their ancestors. And numerous sustained serious injuries.
The Council of Elders determined to pray for guidance and how to proceed. Meanwhile, a young Tathatan by the name of Puruma took Bayar, Tass, and Magsa aside and thanked them for their efforts.
“The elders are stubborn,” he said. “They believe the Governor is on their side, and do not realize they are cattle being led to the slaughter. If you can produce evidence that either the Governor or his right hand man, the Captain of the Guard, has acted against our community, you may change their minds. Please, for the sake of us all, find the proof we need.”
By that time dusk was coming on, and the group was tired from combat. They left the Tathatan Ward the way they came, and made for rest at the Sky Door.