The following is an excerpt from THE BONE DOLL'S TWIN, forthcoming from Bantam Spectra in October, 2001. For those of you familiar with the Nightrunner books, this is set in the same world, five centuries earlier, when the capital of Skala was still at Ero.
Copyright 2000 by Lynn Flewelling, not to be duplicated in any fashion without written permission of the author and Bantam Spectra.
Iya pulled off her straw wayfarer's hat and fanned herself with it as her horse labored up the rocky trail toward Afra. The sun stood at noon, blazing against the cloudless blue. It was only the first week of Gorathin, far too early in the summer for it to be this hot. It appeared the drought was going to last another season.
Snow still glistened on the peaks overhead. Now and then a plume of wind-blown white gusted out against the stark blue of the sky, creating the tantalizing illusion of coolness. But down here in the narrow pass no breeze stirred. Anywhere else Iya might have conjured up a bit of wind, but no magic was allowed within a day's ride of Afra.
Ahead of her, Arkoniel swayed in his saddle like a shabby, long-legged stork. The young wizard's linen tunic was sweated through down the back and stained drab with a week's worth of road dust. He never complained, although he had finally sacrificed the patchy black attempt at a beard he'd cultivating since he turned one and twenty last Erasin.
Poor boy, Iya thought fondly; the newly shaven skin was already badly sunburnt.
Their destination, the Oracle at Afra, lay at the very heart of Skala's mountainous spine and was a grueling ride any time of year. Iya had made the long pilgrimage twice before, but never in summer.
The walls of the pass pressed close to the trail here, and centuries of seekers had left their names and supplications to Illior Lightbearer scratched into the dark stone. Others simply carved the god's thin crescent moon; thousands of these lined the trail like tilting smiles. Arkoniel had left one of his own earlier that morning to commemorate his first visit.
Iya's horse stumbled and the worn leather bag slung from her saddle horn bumped hard against her thigh. Inside, smothered in elaborate wrappings and magic, was a lopsided bowl crudely fashioned of burnt clay. There was nothing remarkable about it, except for the fierce aura of malevolence it gave off when not hidden away. More than once over the years, she'd imagined throwing it over a cliff or into a river; in reality, she could no more have done that than cut off her own arm. She was the Guardian; the contents of that bag had been her charge for over a century.
Unless the Oracle can tell me otherwise. Fixing her thin, greying hair into a knot on top of her head, she fanned again at her sweaty neck.
Arkoniel turned in the saddle and regarded her with concern. His unruly black curls dripped sweat beneath the wilted brim of his hat. "You're all red in the face. We should stop and rest again."
"No, we're nearly there."
"Well, have some more water, at least. And put your hat back on!"
"You make me feel old. I'm only two hundred and thirty."
"Two hundred and thirty two," he corrected with a wry grin.
She made a sour face at him. "Just wait until you're in your third age, my boy. It gets harder to keep track."
The truth was, hard riding did tire her more than it had back in her early hundreds, although she wasn't about to admit it. She took a long pull from her waterskin and flexed her shoulders. "You've been quiet today. Do you have a query yet?"
"I think so. I hope the Oracle thinks it's worthy."
Such earnestness made Iya smile. This journey was merely another lesson as far as Arkoniel knew. He knew nothing of her true quest, or the question she had never before dared ask.
The leather bag bumped against her thigh like a nagging child. Forgive me, Agazhar, she thought, knowing her long-dead teacher, the first Guardian, would not have approved.
The last stretch of trail was the most treacherous. The rock face to their right gave way to a chasm and in places they rode with their left knees brushing the cliff face.
Arkoniel disappeared around a sharp bend, then called back, "I can see Illior's Keyhole. It's just as you described!"
Rounding the outcropping, Iya saw the painted archway glowing like a garish apparition where it straddled the trail. Stylized dragons glowed in red, blue and gold around the narrow opening, which was just wide enough for a single horseman to pass through. Afra lay less than a mile beyond.
Sweat stung Iya's eyes, making her blink. The first time Agazhar had brought her here it had been snowing.
Iya had come later than most to the wizardly arts. She'd grown up on a tenant farm on the border of Skala's northeast mainland territory. The closest market town lay across the Keela River in Mycena, and it was here that Iya's family traded. Like many bordermen, her father had taken a Mycenian wife and made his offerings to Dalna the Maker, rather than Illior or Sakor.
So it was, when she first showed signs of magic, that she was sent back across the river to study with an old Dalnan priest who tried to make a drysian healer of her. She soon earned praise for her herb craft, but when the ignorant old fellow discovered that she could make fire with a thought he bound a witch charm to her wrist and sent her home in disgrace.
With this taint on her, she'd found little welcome in her village and no prospect of a husband.
She was a spinster of twenty-four when Agazhar happened across her in the market square. He told her later that it was the witch charm that had caught his eye as she stood haggling with a trader over the price of her goats.
She'd taken no notice of him, thinking he was just another one-armed old soldier finding his way home from the wars. Agazhar had been as ragged and hollow-cheeked as any of them.
Iya was forced to take a second look when he walked up to her, clasped her hand, and broke into a sweet smile of recognition. After a brief conversation, she sold off her goats and followed the old wizard down the south road without a backward glance. All anyone would have found of her had they bothered to search was the witch charm lying in the weeds by the market gate.
Agazhar hadn't scoffed at her fire making. It was, he explained, the first sign that she was one of the god-touched of Illior. He taught her to harness the unknown power she possessed into the potent magic of the Orëska wizards.
Agazhar was a free wizard, beholden to no one. Eschewing the comforts of a single patron, he wandered as he liked, finding welcome in noble houses and humble ones alike. Together he and Iya traveled the Three Lands and beyond, sailing west to Aurënen where even the common folk were as long-lived as wizards and possessed magic. Here she learned that the Aurënfaie were the first Orëska; it was their blood, mingled with that of Iya's race, that had given magic to the chosen ones of Skala and Plenimar.
This gift came with a price. Human wizards could neither bear nor sire children, but Iya considered herself well repaid, both in magic and later, with students as gifted and companionable as Arkoniel.
Agazhar also taught her more about the Great War than any of her father's ballads or legends, for he'd been among the wizards who'd fought for Skala under Queen Ghërilain's banner.
"There's never been another such war as that, and pray Sakor there never shall be again," he'd say, staring into the campfire at night as if he saw his fallen comrades there. "For one shining time the wizards stood shoulder to shoulder with the nobles and their warriors, battling the black necromancers of Plenimar."
The tales Agazhar told of those days gave Iya nightmares. He'd It had been a necromancer's demon- a dyrmagnos, he called it— that had torn off his left arm.
Gruesome as these tales had been, Iya clung to them, for only in them had Agazhar given her a glimpse of where the leather bag banging against her leg had come from.
Agazhar had carried the bowl then; never in all the years she'd known him had he let it out of his possession.
"Spoils of the Great War," Agazhar told her with a dark laugh the first time he'd ever opened the bag to show it to her.
But beyond that, he would tell her nothing except that the bowl could not be destroyed and that its existence could not be revealed to anyone but the next Guardian. He'd schooled her rigorously in the complex web of spells that protected it, making her weave and unweave them until she could do it in the blink of an eye.
"You'll be the Guardian after me," he reminded her when she grew impatient with the secrecy. "And your successor after you. Then you shall understand. Be certain you choose wisely."
"But how will I know whom to choose?"
He'd smiled and taken her hand as he had the first time they'd met in the marketplace. "Trust in the Lightbearer. You'll know."
And she had.
At first she couldn't help pressing to know more about it— where he'd found it, who had made it and why but Agazhar had remained obdurate. "Not until the time comes for you to take on the full care of it. Then I shall tell you all there is to know."
Sadly, that day had taken them both unaware. Agazhar had dropped dead in the streets of Ero one fine spring day soon after her first century. One moment he was holding forth on the beauty of a new transformation spell he'd just created; the next he slipped to the ground with a hand pressed to his heart and a look of mild surprise in his fixed, dead eyes.
Scarcely into her second age, Iya suddenly found herself Guardian without knowing what she guarded or why. She kept the oath she'd sworn to him and waited for Illior to reveal her successor. She had waited a lifetime and watched promising students come and go, yet said nothing to them of the bag and its secrets.
She'd recognized Arkoniel the moment she first spied him playing in his father's orchard fifteen years earlier. He could already keep a chestnut spinning in midair at his command and had dreamt of her arrival.
Young as he was, she'd taught him what little she knew of the bowl as soon as he was bound over to her. Later, when he was strong enough, she taught him how to weave the protections. Even so, she kept the burden of it on her own shoulders as Agazhar had instructed.
Over the years Iya had come to regard the bowl as little more than a sacred nuisance, but that had all changed a month ago, when the wretched thing had taken over her dreams. These ghastly interwoven nightmares of war and destruction, more vivid than any she'd ever known, had finally driven her here, for she saw the bowl in all of them, carried high above battlefield by a monstrous black figure for which she knew no name.
Iya straightened in the saddle and shook off the reverie that had claimed her. Arkoniel was fretting again, poor fellow.
"Ah, we're here at last," she said, giving him a smile.
Pinched in a deep cleft of rock, Afra was scarcely large enough to be called a village. It existed solely to serve the Oracle and the pilgrims who journeyed here. A wayfarer's inn and the chambers of the priests were carved like bank swallow nests into the cliff faces on either side of a small paved square, and their doorways were framed with elaborate fretwork and pillars of ancient design.
The square was deserted now, but a few people waved to them from the shadow of deep windows.
At the square's center stood a red jasper stele as tall as Arkoniel. A spring bubbled up at its base and flowed away into a stone basin and on to a trough beyond.
"I can't believe it!" Arkoniel exclaimed. Dismounting, he turned his horse loose at the trough and went to examine the stele. Running his palm over the inscription carved in four languages, he read the words that had changed the course of Skalan history three centuries earlier. "'So long as a daughter of Thelátimos' line defends and rules, Skala shall never be subjugated.'" He shook his head in wonder. "This is the original, isn't it?"
Iya nodded sadly. "Queen Ghërilain placed this here herself right after the war as a thank offering to Illior. The Oracle's Queen, they called her then."
In the darkest days of the war, when it seemed that Plenimar would devour the lands of her neighbors Skala and Mycena, the Skalan king Thelátimos had left the battlefields and journeyed here to consult the Oracle. When he returned to the field, he brought with him his only daughter, sixteen-year old Ghërilain. Obeying the Oracle's words, he anointed her before his exhausted army, and passed his the crown and sword to her.
According to Agazhar, the generals had not thought much of the king's decision. But from the start the girl was god-touched as a warrior and led the allies to victory in a year's time, killing the Plenimaran Overlord single-handedly at the Battle of Isil. She'd been a fine queen in peace, as well. Agazhar had been among the mourners in Ero fifty years later.
"I've heard of these markers, but never seen one," said Arkoniel.
"You were just a babe when King Erius tore them all down." Iya dismounted and touched the stone reverently. It was hot under her palm, and still as smooth as the day it left the stonecutter's shop. "These once stood at every major crossroads in the land. Even Erius didn't dare touch this one."
"When he sent word for it to be removed the priests refused. To force the issue meant invading Afra itself, the most sacred ground in Skala. So Erius graciously relented and contented himself with having all the others dumped into the sea. There was also a golden tablet bearing the inscription in the throne room." Iya sighed, remembering. "I wonder what's happened to that?"
But the younger wizard had more immediate concerns. "Where's the Oracle's shrine?" he asked, shading his eyes as he studied the cliffs.
"Further up the valley. Drink deeply here. We must walk the rest of the way."
Leaving their mounts at the inn, they followed a well-worn path deeper into the valley. The way became steeper and more difficult as they went. There were no trees to shade them, no moisture to lay the white dust that hung on the hot midday air. Soon the way dwindled to a faint track winding up between boulders and over rock faces worn smooth and treacherous by centuries of pilgrim's feet.
They met two other groups of seekers coming in the opposite direction. A knot of young soldiers were laughing and talking bravely, all but one young man who hung back from his fellows with the fear of death clear in his eyes. The second group clustered around a fat old merchant woman in an expensive black riding gown who wept silently as the younger members of her party helped her down the treacherous path.
Arkoniel eyed them nervously. Iya waited until the merchant's party had disappeared around a bend, then sat down on a rock to rest. The way was hardly wide enough for two people to pass and held the heat like an oven. She took a sip from the waterskin Arkoniel had refilled at the spring. The water was still cold enough to make her eyes ache.
"Is it much further?" he asked.
"Just a little further." Promising herself a cool bath at the inn, Iya stood and continued up the trail.
"You knew the king's mother, didn't you?" Arkoniel said, scrambling along behind her. "Was she as bad as they say?"
The stele must have gotten him thinking. "Not at first. Agnalain the Just, they called her. But she had a dark streak in her that worsened with age. Some say it came from her father's blood. Others said it was because of the trouble she had with childbearing. Her first consort gave her two sons. Then she seemed to go barren for years and gradually developed a taste for young consorts and public executions. Erius's father was the first to go to the block for treason against her. After that no one was safe. By the Four, I can still remember the stink of the crow cages lining the roads around Ero! We all hoped she'd improve when she finally had a daughter, but she didn't. It only made her worse."
It had been easy enough in those black days for Agnalain's eldest son, Prince Erius—already a seasoned warrior and the people's darling— to argue that the Oracle's words had been twisted, that the prophecy had referred only to King Thelátimos' actual daughter, not to a matrilineal line of succession. Surely brave Prince Erius was better suited to the throne than the only direct female heir, a half-sister just past her third birthday.
Never mind the fact that Skala had enjoyed unparalleled prosperity under her queens, or that the only other man to take the throne, Ghërilain's own son Pelis, had brought on both plague and drought during his brief reign. Only when his sister had replaced him on the throne had Illior protected the land again as the Oracle had promised.
Agnalain had died suddenly, and it was whispered that Prince Erius and his brother Aron had had a hand in it. But the rumor was whispered with relief rather than condemnation. Everyone knew Erius had ruled in all but name during the last terrible years of his mother's decline. Now renewed rumblings from Plenimar had grown too loud for the Skalan nobles to risk civil war on behalf of an infant queen. The crown passed to him without challenge. When Plenimar attacked the southern ports that same year and he drove the invaders back into the sea and burned their black ships, this seemed to lay the prophecy to rest.
All the same, there had been more blights and drought in the past nineteen years than even the oldest wizards could recall. The current drought was its third year in some parts of the country, and had wiped out whole villages already decimated by wildfires and waves of plague brought in from the northern trade routes. Arkoniel's parents had died in one such epidemic a few years earlier. A quarter of Ero's population had succumbed in a few months' time, including Prince Aron, as well as Erius' consort, both daughters, and two of his three sons, leaving only the second youngest boy, Korin, alive. Since then, the words of the Oracle were being whispered again in certain quarters.
More recently, Iya had her own reasons for regretting Erius's coup. His half-sister, Ariani, had grown up to marry Iya's patron, the powerful Duke Rhius. The couple was expecting their first child in the fall.
Iya was sweating and winded by the time they reached the tight cul-de-sac where the shrine lay.
"It's not quite what I expected," Arkoniel muttered, eyeing what appeared to be an old stone well.
Iya chuckled. "Don't judge too quickly."
Two sturdy priests in dusty red robes and silver masks sat cross-legged in the shade of a wooden lean to beside the well. Iya joined them there and sat down heavily on a stone. "I need time to compose my thoughts. You go first."
The priests rose and carried a coil of heavy rope to the well, motioning for Arkoniel to join them. He gave Iya a nervous grin as they fixed a loop of rope around his hips. Still silent, they motioned for him to step into the stone enclosure and approach the entrance to the oracle chamber. From the surface, this was nothing but a hole in ground about four feet in diameter.
It was always daunting, this act of faith and surrender, and more so the first time, but as always Arkoniel did not hesitate. Sitting with his feet over the edge, he gripped the rope and nodded to the priests to let him down. He slid out of sight and they paid out the line until it went slack.
Iya sat in the shade of the lean to and tried to still her racing heart. She'd done her best for days not to think too directly on what she was about to do. Now that she was here, she suddenly regretted her decision. Closing her eyes, she tried to examine this fear, but could find no basis for it. Yes, she was disobeying her master's injunction, but that wasn't it. Here on the very doorstep of the Oracle, she had a premonition of something dark looming just ahead. She prayed silently for the strength to face whatever Illior revealed to her today, for she could not turn aside.
The twitch on the rope that signaled that Arkoniel had finished came sooner than she'd expected. The priests hauled up the rope and he emerged looking rather perplexed. Clambering out of the enclosure, he hurried over and collapsed on the ground beside her.
"Iya, it was the strangest thing—!" he began, but she held up a warning hand.
"There will be time later," she told him, knowing she must go now or not at all.
She took her place in the harness, breath tight in her chest as she hung her feet over the edge of the opening. Grasping the rope with one hand and the leather bag with the other, she nodded to the priests and began her descent.
She felt the familiar nervous flutter in her belly as she swung down into the cool darkness. She'd never been able to guess the actual dimensions of this underground chamber; the silence and faint movement of air against her face suggested a vast cavern. Where the light struck the stone floor below, it had gently undulating smoothness of stone worn by some ancient underground river.
After a few moments her feet touched solid ground and she stepped free of the rope. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out a faint glow nearby and walked toward it. Each time she'd come here, the light appeared to come from a different direction. When she reached the Oracle at last, however, everything was just as she remembered.
A crystal orb on a low silver tripod gave off a wide circle of light. The Oracle sat next to it on an ivory stool carved in the shape of a crouching dragon.
She's so young! Iya thought, inexplicably saddened. The last two Oracles had been old women, their skin bleached white by years of darkness. This girl was no more than fourteen, but her skin was already pale. Dressed in a simple linen shift that left her arms and feet bare, the girl sat with her palms on her knees. Her face was round and plain, her eyes vacant. Like wizards, the sibyls of Afra did not escape Illior's touch unscathed.
Iya knelt at her feet. A masked priest stepped into the circle of light, a large silver salver held out before him. The silence of the chamber swallowed Iya's sigh as she unwrapped the clay bowl and laid it in the salver. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
The priest presented it to the Oracle, who accepted it and placed it on her knees. Her face remained vacant, betraying nothing.
Doesn't she feel the evil of the thing? Iya wondered. The unveiled power of it made Iya's head hurt.
The girl gazed at the bowl, then looked into Iya's eyes. Silvery light like moonshine on snow swelled in a bright nimbus around her head. The wizard felt a thrill of awe. Illior had entered the girl.
"I see demons feasting on the dead. I see the God Whose Name Is Not Spoken," the Oracle said softly.
Iya's heart turned to stone in her breast. This was Seriamaius, the dark god of necromancy worshipped by the Plenimarans who had come so close to destroying Skala in the Great War. Iya trembled, her worst fears confirmed. "I've dreamed this. War and disasters far worse than any Skala has ever known."
"You see too far, wizard." The Oracle lifted the bowl in both hands and by some trick of the light her eyes became sunken black holes in her face. The priest was nowhere to be seen now, although Iya had not heard him leave.
The girl turned the bowl slowly in her hands. "Black makes white. Foul makes pure. Evil creates greatness. Out of Plenimar comes the means of both Skala's present salvation and future peril. This is a seed that must be watered with blood. But you see too far."
The Oracle tilted the bowl forward and bright blood splashed out, too much for so small a vessel. It formed a round pool on the stone floor at the Oracle's feet. Looking into it, Iya caught the reflection of a woman's face framed by the visor of a bloody Skalan war helm. Iya could make out two intense blue eyes, a firm mouth above a pointed chin. The face was harsh one moment, sorrowful the next, and so familiar that it made Iya's heart ache though she wouldn't realize until much later whom this woman so resembled. Flames reflected off the helm and somewhere in the distance Iya heard the clash of battle.
The apparition slowly faded and was replaced by that of a shining white palace standing on a high cliff. It had a glittering dome, and at each of its four corners stood a slender tower.
"Behold the Third Orëska," the Oracle whispered. "Here may you lay your burden down."
Iya leaned forward with a gasp of awe. The palace had hundreds of windows and at every window stood a wizard, looking directly at her. In the highest window of the closest tower she saw Arkoniel, robed in blue and holding the bowl in his hands. A young boy with thick blond curls stood at his side.
She could see Arkoniel quite clearly now, even though she was so far away. He was an old man, with a face deeply lined and weary beyond words. Even so, her heart swelled with joy at the sight of him.
"Ask," the Oracle whispered, and Iya understood.
"What is the bowl?" she called to Arkoniel.
"It is not for us, but he will know," Arkoniel told her, passing the bowl to the little boy beside him. The child looked at Iya with an old man's grey eyes and smiled.
"All is woven together, Guardian," the Oracle said as this vision faded into something darker. "This is the legacy you and your kind are offered now. One with the true queen. One with Skala. You shall be tested with fire."
Iya saw the symbol of her craft—the thin crescent of Illior's moon on its side like a smile—against a circle of fire. The number 222 glowed just beneath it in figures of white flame so bright they hurt her eyes.
Then Ero lay spread before her under a bloated moon, in flames from harbor to Palatine citadel. An army under the flag of Plenimar surrounded it, too numerous to count. Iya could feel the heat of the flames on her face as Erius led his army against them. But his soldiers fell dead behind him and the flesh fell from his charger's bones in shreds. The Plenimarans surrounded the king like wolves and he was lost from sight. The vision shifted dizzyingly again and Iya saw the Skalan crown, bent and tarnished now, lying in a barren field.
"So long as a daughter of Thelátimos' line defends and rules, Skala shall never be subjugated," the Oracle whispered.
"Ariani?" Iya asked, but knew as she spoke that it had not been the Princess' face she'd seen framed in that helm.
Swaying and keening, the Oracle raised the bowl and poured its endless flow over her head like a libation, masking herself in blood. Falling to her knees, the girl grasped Iya's hand and a whirlwind took them, striking Iya blind. Screaming winds surrounded her, then entered the top of her head, going through the core of her like a shipwright's augur. Images flashed by like wind-borne leaves: the strange number on its shield, and the helmeted woman in many forms and guises—old, young, in rags, crowned, hanging naked from a gibbet, riding garlanded through broad, unfamiliar streets. Iya saw her clearly, her face, her blue eyes, black hair, and long limbs like Ariani's. But it was not the Princess.
The Oracle's voice cut through the maelstrom. "This is your Queen, Wizard, this true daughter of Thelátimos. She will turn her face to the west."
Suddenly Iya felt a bundle placed in her arms. Opening her eyes, she looked down at the dead infant the Oracle had given her.
"Others see, but only through smoke and darkness," said the Oracle. "By the will of Illior the bowl came into your hands; it is the long burden of your line, Guardian, and the bitterest of all. But in this generation comes the child who is the foundation of what is to come. She is your legacy. Two children, one queen marked with the blood of passage."
The dead infant looked up at Iya with black staring eyes and a searing pain tore through her chest. She knew whose child this was.
Then the vision was gone and Iya found herself kneeling in front of the Oracle with the unopened bag in her arms. There was no dead infant, no blood on the floor. The Oracle sat on her stool, shift and hair unstained.
"Two children, one queen," the girl whispered, looking at her with the shining white eyes of Illior.
Iya shivered, trying to cling to all she'd seen and heard. "The others who see this child, Honored One, do they mean her well or ill? Will they help me raise her up?"
But the god was gone and the woman child slumped on the stool had no answers.
Sunlight blinded Iya as she emerged from the cavern. The heat took her breath away and her legs would not support her. Arkoniel caught her as she collapsed against the stone enclosure. "Iya, what happened? What's wrong?"
"Just—just give me a moment," she croaked, clutching the bag to her chest.
A seed watered with blood.
Arkoniel carried her into the shade and put the waterskin to her lips. Iya drank, then leaned back against him. It was some time before she felt strong enough to start back for the inn. Arkoniel kept one arm about her waist and she suffered his help without complaint. They were within sight of the stele when she fainted.
When she opened her eyes again she was lying on a soft bed in a cool, dim room at the inn. Sunlight streamed in through a crack in the dusty shutter and struck shadows into the carved wall beside the bed. Arkoniel sat beside her, clearly worried.
"What happened with the Oracle?" he asked.
Illior spoke and my question was answered, she thought bitterly. How I wish I'd listened to Agazhar.
She found his hand and held it. "Later, when I'm feeling stronger. Tell me your vision. Was your query answered?"
Her answer obviously frustrated him, but he knew better than to press her. "I'm not sure," he said. "I asked was what sort of wizard I'd become, what my path would be. She showed me a vision in the air, but all I could make out was an image of me holding a young boy in my arms."
"Did he have blonde hair?" she asked, thinking of the child she'd seen with him in the beautiful white tower.
"No, black. To be honest, I was disappointed, coming all this way just for that. Perhaps I did something wrong in the asking?"
"Sometimes you must wait for the meaning to be revealed." Iya turned away from that earnest young face, wishing that the Lightbearer had granted her such a respite. The sun still blazed down on the square outside her window, but Iya saw only the road back to Ero before her, and darkness at its end.