This is part of an ongoing story, we recommend you start at the beginning.
Jacintha Rayeth crossed the Vinyasa desert with her head held high, life trailing behind her as she traveled the barren crucible. Her bearing that of a warrior on the path to conquest. Behind her, staggered in the high sands and shifting dunes, came an army built of hundreds of rugged men and women. Their ramshackle appearance and dirty faces belying the confidence of their gaze and sureness of step. They were on a mission, one passed to them from on high. One that their God, Jev—the Vicious, the Warrior—had emerged after centuries of silence to bestow. One that they dared not, that they could not fail.
Pausing briefly to look behind her, Rayeth’s heart swelled with pride at what she saw. Not one head was bowed under the heat of Giin’s Eye, despite what must have been pools of sweat swilling in their brown leather jerkins and dampening their cotton doublets. Every pair of eyes was faced forward, focused on their ever closer destination, though they could not yet see it over the rounded hilltops of the desert and the distant mountains that ringed it. Not one foot stumbled, despite the treacherous nature of the bluffs, the unsure depths of the sands. They crossed Vinyasa lightly, their feet caressing her surface like the gentle kisses of lovers. Despite the heat and the stinging, blinding sweat, Jacintha felt cool in her soul, assured in her knowledge that their every step was guided. Guided not only be her capable hands, hands that had wrung much blood from the dying, but also in the knowledge that their God was with them and their path blessed.
She looked beside her, and there matching her step for step as she always did, was Adina, her second in command, lifelong friend, confidante and closest companion. Noticing her gaze, Adina took her hand, smiling, and squeezed. Jacintha smiled back, but could not stop a shadow from cross her brow, nor ignore the despair that crowded around her heart, despair she had so desperately and so futilely tried to tamp down under a veil of fanaticism. Yes, she was on a glorious mission. Yes, she would bring her diasporic people victory and find them the home that had been denied them so long, but at what cost? It was a heavy price Jev demanded they pay, a price she had agreed to freely. A price she did perhaps not fully understand until just the night before.
Jacintha woke in the cool stillness of the desert, silence her only companion. Indeed, it was the absence of her consummate bedfellow that stirred her, that caused her to drape a robe the color of dark blood around her bare shoulders and exit her camp into the wilderness. There she saw Adina, in a similar state of half-dress, staring in the direction of their destination. The kingdom of Dauphin, though just a few short days away, was obscured by a range of mountains they would pass through on the morrow, and by the fog that plagued those lands around this time each year, a mark of the mourning of a false God.
“Ho Jace,” Adina greeted her without turning. Rayeth was not surprised Adina knew who approached, her sensitive ears and keen mind could discern between the footfalls of all that marched with them.
“Ho Addy,” Jacintha walked up the ridge on which Adina sat, before joining her, sitting in silence, waiting for her friend to reveal what troubled her. They had known each other far too long for Jacintha not to know when something was bothering Adina. And she had known her for far too long not to know that she could not draw it out of her, Adina would speak when she was ready.
Long minutes, maybe even hours, passed before Adina spoke. They sat together quietly, listening to the wind gently rush through the ridge, the low sound of a storm off in the distant mountains, the few animals who eked a meager living in the desert calling to each other, the lifelong dance of predator and prey. Their hands after a while found each other in the cooling sands, fingers interlocked as neither met the other’s eye. Jacintha tried to push back the dread that slowly crept into her, but try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the fear that clutched her. As much as she tried to deny the truth, she knew what words would leave her closest friend’s mouth before she spoke, only one thing could trouble her so.
“You know what I dreamt tonight?”
“He came to me, Jace. Jev came to me.”
Jacintha’s breath caught in her chest and she dared not speak, knowing that she would not be able to stop the tears that would come if she did. Adina turned to her, her eyes ringed red and pregnant with tears.
“Jace, Jace… I’ve been chosen.”
And with that, her whole heart felt torn from her chest. For the first time, Jacintha realized that to gain what she desired most, she would have to lose that which she treasured above all else. Jev was just, yes, and great and had imbued her with the power to shape the world. But he was cruel too. Dangling all that she had dreamed right before her in one hand, as the other ripped all she loved from her grasp. Adina was going to die, and her hands, Jacintha’s callous hands stained by countless past sins, were the instrument of that death. Finally she understood the true meaning of Jev’s words from her dreams, dreams that first came to her as a little girl, the bastard daughter of a king who had as many bastards as he did scullery maids. At last she felt the weight of Jev’s prophecy as they stood together on a snowy windswept peak, as he showed her the lands that would become hers.
You will gain much, all that you ever asked for, a land of you own, a kingdom to last the centuries. Are you willing to do what is necessary?
“Yes! Yes… my lord.” She offered herself without thinking.
No boon comes without strings, child. To gain all your desire, your heart will be torn from you again and again. Again I ask, are you willing?
“Any price, I will pay it gladly,” She said, ambition once again blinding her to the true depths of the warning in her God’s words.
And so it was that Jacintha Rayeth crossed the Vinyasa desert, the setting sun at her back, her lover’s hands grasping hers all the tighter. The moment of reckoning grew closer with each step. As she crossed, the promise of a new life crossed with her, the specter of death looming all the while.