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*****


"Your people are dying, Sameska." Quin's voice was a mere whisper, but it carried unnaturally above the raging storm outside. Sameska set her lips in a thin line and narrowed her eyes, fighting the fear that radiated from him in waves. He enjoyed her obvious discomfort. "In this chamber," she said, "you shall refer to me as High Oracle." "In this chamber," he replied, "I shall speak as I wish." The oracles gasped at his audacious words, though several of them seemed intrigued by the scene that was playing out before them. They eyed him curiously in a manner he was accustomed to, though it was not altogether comfortable. Outwardly he ignored them, but in truth he despised their quiet perusal and hoped the power of his shadow led them to believe he was nothing less than a demon. He further confounded their judgment of his humanity as he pushed the hood from his head and let it rest upon his shoulders. His pale eyes found each of them as he swept his gaze across the group. He wondered, briefly, if unfolding events would lead him to kill them and their high oracle. "Why have you come here?"

Sameska's question disrupted his dark thoughts, and he shook off pondering what blood would be spilled to end his time in this affair.

He had no desire to harm any of them, only the determination to do so if warranted. "I assumed you might tell me, Lady Prophet." He smiled as he answered, though venom dripped from his words. "Your prediction seems certain about leaving your people defenseless, but it is lacking in details where I am concerned, eh?" The high oracle flushed in anger and held her breath as his hand brushed against Bedlam's pommel.

Though she was a mystery to him, she played to his suppositions easily. "You have no right, warrior, to come in here and demand anything of me or my people!" His smile disappeared. "It seems I have every right, prophet! I have come here of my own accord. I have heard prophecy that labels me a savior, and I see a people who are aware of a coming destruction and do nothing!" "This is who we are!" "No!" His voice thundered through the room. "This is who you were. According to your own words, should I fail or walk away, your people will be obliterated!" Elisandrya gasped behind him. He regretted the effect his words might have on her, but he could not allow the truth of the matter to be obscured by Sameska's righteousness. Should he choose to abandon this prophecy, then by her own words, Brookhollow would be destroyed. Deep down, he felt a spike of shame. Should that occur, he would mourn only one death among those many. The long silence that followed felt like eternity, filling the sanctuary with its heavy import. Quin studied Sameska and noticed several oracles seemed intrigued by his argument rather than frightened. They nodded and looked to her for a response. "You bring only disrespect into this temple, Elisandrya," Sameska said, ignoring Quin. "You tamper with prophecy and now seem shocked when your actions succeed?" "You have not addressed his argument, High Oracle." Eli's gaze became steel and she stepped away from Quin. He could see the look of betrayal dawning in her eyes. "What of his choice?" "Savras provides," Sameska began through clenched teeth. "Your presence here confirms his wisdom, his sight. We do not rely on your goodwill, Hoarite and have no faith in coincidence. Such is our way." Quin shook his head, smiling bitterly as he looked at the floor. "Yes, I know. I've heard this before." Quin remembered that old man, standing in Targris beside the smoking ruin that had been the center of the town's faith. Under normal circumstances, he imagined their dogma might have merit, but death had infected that equation. In light of the prophecy and what he believed to be its purpose, he could not help but think they deserved what fate had in store for them. "You cannot see because you are blind to the hidden circle around us all," Sameska said in a condescending tone.

"Ripples of action preclude each moment and affect all whom we touch.

If you could see just one ripple, you might see them all and what is to come." Quin raised his head and met her eyes again in defiance. "I have seen what prophecy accomplishes," he said, hardening his gaze.

"In Logfell. In Targris. Do these circles reach only as far as the edge of your own safety, prophet?" Sameska's eyes widened in fear and she shook her head as he spoke the names of those towns aloud. She looked away, breaking the stare between them. Her demeanor collapsed, leaving her looking as old and lost as her advanced years. Her voice, when it returned, cracked and shook, but conveyed her words clearly to all. "You are an assassin, Hoarite. A killer without conscience who hunts for justice at the whim of a bitter god." She looked at him with red-rimmed eyes. "Your judgment carries no weight here." "Agreed," he said matter-of-factly, stepping closer to her. "Now tell me all that you have seen, that I might finish my hunt and leave this place." She stared a moment longer into his opal eyes. He gave back nothing but nonchalant acceptance of what she had obviously intended as an insult.

He had no illusions about his place in the world. Though uncertain at times as to what his conscience would or would not accept, he felt sure he could endure her hasty judgment without shame. "The Tower of Jhareat in the Qurth forest," she responded weakly. "There awaits a sorceress in blooded robes with a host of unseen creatures at her command. I felt their presence, nothing more. They have lain there several days at least." She hung her head as she said the last, as if divulging the last of her secrets. He expected the full sum of her secrets remained hidden, but he had what he needed and cared little for the rest. Quinsareth stood a moment longer, anger and pity in his eyes, then turned and walked out without a word. Elisandrya followed.

He could hear her purposeful stride gaining on him. He quickened his step as much to escape the temple as to avoid the look he imagined in her eyes.


***** | Bloodwalk | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN