Chapter 18

Chapter 18: III: Kirin

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Chapter 18: Saviours

Section III

Kirin – Ledan: Ek-Anout

Silices hobbled toward Kirin on bloody feet.

It didn’t make sense—Kirin had strangled him, not stabbed him. Why was there so much blood? Blood between his toes, slick at his ankles as though the bones beneath had been broken. Blood on his hands, sticky as sap in his nailbeds.

Kirin felt it as though it clung to his own skin.

Darkness fuzzed at Silices’s shoulders, disturbed by every step he took in Kirin’s direction.

“You killed me for a Masseni rat, Kirin. One of your own. A child. Will you tell my mother whose face watched the light fade from my eyes? Will you tell her why I died?” Bloody footprints stained the ground where Silices stepped. “That rat bitch was dead anyway. One of your own, Kirin. One of your own for one of them.”

Daylight flickered in Kirin’s vision—shades of blue and purple and orange veiled by his eyelids. Something soft and warm was holding him.

It was like he was in two places at once.

In the dark place, Silices raised three of his bloody fingers to Kirin’s lips. Silices’s skin tasted of salt and iron.

Half awake, Kirin jostled in his sleep, aware of someone approaching, yet unable to jerk his eyes open. A tender hand cupped his shoulder and shook him gently.

He opened his eyes and the boy he’d thought he’d strangled filled his vision. “Silices!”

Silices recoiled. Were his fingers shaking?

“It’s me. Vasthes.” Silices’s twin laughed nervously, wringing his hands. “You’d think people could tell us apart, now I’m alone.”

Kirin sat up, only to be blinded by the sun. He was lying on a settee beneath Varco’s curtained tower aboard the Eralia. The curtains were parted so that Kirin and Vasthes had a perfect view of a crescent-shaped dockyard and a flat carpet of sandstone buildings stretching outward into a vast desert. Lorai and Anouti vessels were tethered alongside the Eralia, their gangplanks lowered and their decks all but abandoned.

This wasn’t Zimrida.

Kirin rubbed his eyes, his dream-addled mind struggling to keep up with the real world.

Like it had every morning since the siege, Kirin’s mind raced through events since the island: how he’d carried Silices’s broken body back to the ship, how he’d spun a tale for Vasthes of Silices’s valour, how he’d gone to bed each night since Zimrida either crying or cursing, and how he’d woken up the same way and then comforted Vasthes that his brother had died a hero.

Kirin stared at his thumbs. He could feel the subtle bumps of Silices’s neck muscles beneath his fingers and the pounding of the boy’s frantic heartbeat pulsing against his palms.

Vasthes’s eyes were red-rimmed and sleep-starved, but this morning Kirin didn’t have it in himself to lie for the boy’s benefit.

“Where are we?” Kirin had a vague recollection of waking briefly, of Varco’s concern that the stalker Kirin had seen on Zimrida might be Marianus’s spy.

Vasthes’s eyes widened. It was the most change Kirin had seen in him for days. “Don’t you remember? You woke a few hours ago. We’re in Ledan, in the rat’s nest.”

Ledan. Kirin struggled to root out any memory of their arrival at the Anouti capital, but he must have slept through it because he remembered nothing.

The worst were the waking hours, when he barely felt anything at all—not even well-earned guilt. Ydelka, Yakov, Silices . . . . Kirin was so tired of their screams. It was difficult even to muster his hatred of Oran into a motivating force. Too much was obscure and confused in Kirin’s memory. Why had he called out for his mother? Why had he killed a man of Lorar for a Masseni bitch?

“Where is everyone?” he asked.

Vasthes walked to the curtain and rested his head against one of the wooden posts holding up the canopied tower. He gazed out in the direction of Ledan and the ships docked alongside the Eralia. “Ashore. There’s to be a celebration. They’ve got the Masseni prisoners trussed up for parade, and the Anouti senators are making a public declaration of their allegiance.”

“Safeta,” Kirin corrected without thinking.

Vasthes turned. “What?”

“Safeta, not senators.” Kirin forced himself to sit up. As his feet touched the deck his vision blurred. He caught a whiff of his own stench, then sniffed his armpit. Augh.

Vasthes glared, raising a hand to shield his eyes. He stepped out onto the Eralia’s deck. “They killed my brother; I’ll call them what I like.”

A man of Lorar had killed his brother, but Kirin wasn’t suicidal enough to tell Vasthes that. “It was the Masseni who did it. You just said yourself the Anouti are our allies now.”

Kirin blinked his eyes clear, then stood up and followed Vasthes outside.

“Better they weren’t,” Vasthes said bitterly.

Kirin bumbled to the railing and leaned over. The water below sloshed against the hull, its churning currents a deeper blue compared with the ocean of the northern Helit. Ledan’s harbour was bigger than the one at Venius, curved and swooping and filled with warships. Most of the boats were obviously Lorai and Anouti designed, but one in particular dwarfed all the others, her bold decoration a shock of colour against the backdrop of the plain sandstone colossi of Ledan.

The Ziphax.

Marianus had captured a Masseni vessel, and not just any ship, but the pride of Kemassen’s fleet.

“Come on.” Vasthes gave Kirin’s shoulder a friendly slap. “Let’s watch the parade.”

Kirin walked with Vasthes to the gangplank, but lingered at the top of it to look out on the spectacular view.

Most of the Anouti buildings looked the same to Kirin. They were hard, angular things the colour of the desert, with trapezoidal arches whose entrances stood like slanted feet atop the paved roads. Palm trees and fountains dotted the city, but altogether she blended into the desert beyond.

The desert, men claimed, was all the protection Ledan required.

“Come on, Lupo! It’s too hot to stand here.” Vasthes had already bolted halfway down the gangplank.

The sun was blinding—too hot and too bright. Raising his elbow to block it out did little, and he was sweltering in even his thin tunic. Maybe there was something to the cloaks and headdresses southerners sometimes wore.

Kirin’s feet drummed the gangplank all the way down.

Beneath the rectangular sandstone buildings that lined the street, shade swallowed Kirin and Vasthes whole, cooling Kirin’s skin. The pungent stink of the fresh catch mingled with the warm scent of baked bread. Kirin was torn between breathing through his mouth to avoid the fishy pong and sniffing deeper to enjoy the undertones of yeast and spice.

It seemed strange that Ledan should smell of bread. Oran hadn’t smelled of bread. But then, no one had ever claimed southerners didn’t eat.

Kirin’s stomach growled.

From one of the ocean-facing temples along the dockyard, a priest in bright blue robe hurried outside, pursued by an angry temple butcher brandishing a fish.

The sight was enough to make Kirin laugh, and while he was distracted, a stumpy, scraggly-haired woman pushed past him. She was fat, squat, and brown-skinned. When she turned her glare on him, he was met with frightful yellow eyes and a furry brow that stretched across both eyes.

“Watch it,” she snapped in Anouti.

“Hey!” Vasthes shouted after her. “You speak to a hero of Lorar!” He laid his hand on his sword hilt. “Hey! I said come back here!”

The woman didn’t even turn around. She was already hurrying up the street.

Kirin laid a staying hand on Vasthes’s shoulder. “Let her be. She’s no one.”

Vasthes tsked in irritation, but he let go of his sword. “Ugly bitch,” he muttered.

A dog. A dog. A dog. A Masseni dog. Silices’s laughter rattled inside Kirin’s head.

“Let’s go,” Kirin managed. He walked in front of Vasthes, but he had no idea where he was going, and Vasthes grabbed his arm, pulling him along for a few steps.

“This way.” Vasthes followed the largest road directly across from the Eralia and Kirin kept close, ignoring the ache in his belly for the moment.

Lorai soldiers lined every road Kirin peered down. Not every man was watching the parade. The faces of the soldiers were mostly glum, stony, or half-asleep. A few of the men down some of the smaller, winding alleys were sitting in the dirt playing dice on Anouti doorsteps.

The wounded must still be aboard ship, just like Kirin had been. Only Kirin wasn’t truly injured. It seemed deeply unfair that he’d been given such a fine sleeping place when the only torments he suffered lived inside his mind.

From down one of the alleys, a small boy peeked at Kirin and Vasthes from behind the safety of his door. Kirin snarled at him and the child vanished, leaving the door swinging behind him.

“Stupid rat.” Vasthes spat onto the ground, accidentally hitting his own foot. “That’s right!” he yelled. “You run! Coward.”

Kirin grunted. Better that the boy learned to fear men like Kirin early, so he knew to flee.

His stomach gurgled and he rested his hand on it. He felt sick and hungry and as if all parts of him were at war.

Vasthes tilted his head in concern but didn’t speak. After a few more streets, the novelty of the foreign city once again distracted him, and he stopped paying Kirin any mind.

Temples, temples, temples—everywhere Kirin looked there were three more. Shrines stood tucked in the sliver-thin alleys between houses, candles decorated steepled lintels while women in expensive purple skirts knelt at the feet of tiny gods carved from wood and stone and things both more precious and much fouler. If there was a space, a god had filled it.

Men were cheering and singing in the distance, and despite Kirin’s moodiness, the familiar hum of Lorai voices sparked a tingle of elation in his guts. In the soldiers’ songs lived the rhythm of one of the arena songs, the cheers of the spectators as his sandals met the sand.

He’d been a hero. He’d thought he’d been one—believed it with the same delight as the children who’d shouted his name from the stands.

When had that certainty died? It was Yakov’s fault, maybe. Or perhaps Ydelka’s. Whoever had started the change, Kirin had completed it the day he’d wrung the life from a Lorai neck.

How strange that the world of the arena now seemed safe and peaceful by comparison to his life now. How could he have known, when Marianus had lifted him from nothing, that in the process the senator would take absolutely everything?

“Hurry up.” Vasthes was ten feet ahead of Kirin, a vigor in his step and a disquieting brightness gleaming in his eyes. “They’ve started already. I can’t miss this. They owe it to me. I want to see those Masseni scumbags torn apart.”

Kirin nodded distractedly. He caught Vasthes up but found his attention wandering to the shadowed alleys rather than the victorious shouts ahead of them. From the windows of the near-identical homes, Ledanese citizens watched Kirin and Vasthes warily. What did any of this mean to them? What part had they played in the Anouti betrayal?

With a sudden flurry of noise and light, Kirin and Vasthes burst onto a larger street. Giant statues of animal-headed gods lined the avenue, and Lorai and Anouti alike clustered at their feet, each scrabbling for a better view of the massive thoroughfare and the soldiers marching along it. The city was so flat—an endless plain that simply melted into the desert beyond—that it was near impossible to get a proper look at the spectacle.

“Lupo! Lupo, look!” Vasthes hopped up on the foot of a beetle-faced god and pointed past the crowd of soldiers.

Kirin clambered onto the statue beside his companion.

The Masseni captain, a man Varco had called Korban, was bound naked to a tall post. His legs bent inwards at the knees as though someone had broken them with a hammer and his arms were barely visible beneath the blood. He’d been bound to the pole so that he was forced to stand. Chained Masseni captives—men and women—dragged the wheeled platform the pole was fastened to. The women had been stripped, their nipples pierced crudely in a way that made them look exotic and strange.

Tawdry and vile. It was like Kirin could hear Yakov’s voice in his head. Tawdry. Vile. Base.

Kirin slapped his ear and it started to hum.

Behind the captain’s transport marched a line of similar contraptions, each displaying a captured man of rank. Some of the men were clearly dead, but that small inconvenience hadn’t saved them from being displayed as though alive. One of them must be Zimrida’s governor.

Last of the prisoners was a group on hands and knees, crawling like animals as they hauled a Lorai chariot behind them. Kirin recognized their costumes—the false finery Marianus and the Reds had used to disguise Priscilla and her fellow victims as members of the Masseni family.

More significantly, he recognized the man they pulled.

Kirin felt sick. “Why’s Marianus here?”

Vasthes crinkled his brow like Kirin was stupid. “To accept the Anouti surrender, probably. Good thing, too. The rats might actually be scared of him.” He pointed at the captives dragging the chariot. “What are they supposed to be?”

Kirin grunted. “The royal family of Kemassen.”

Vasthes cocked his head to the side. “How can you tell?”

“I’ve seen those costumes before.” The explanation either bored or satisfied the boy, for he turned back to the display.

As the chariot neared, Vasthes bent down and scrounged on the ground for a loose stone. He hurled it at the captives, but it missed. Other rocks weren’t so feebly aimed. Lorai onlookers—and some Anouti ones too—launched stones, food, and shit at the crawlers.

“Marianus! Marianus! Marianus!” They cried.

The senator waved from his chariot as one of the slaves pulling it collapsed in the dirt. The others stopped to help, but the lash forced them on.

Kirin couldn’t bear to stand and watch the man be crushed or beaten. He skipped down from the statue—Vasthes’s attention completely stolen by his Pater—and started toward the head of the procession. At the speed the parade was moving, Kirin could probably make it to the procession’s destination before it did—especially if most of the men hauling Marianus perished on the voyage.

He wanted to hear what the Anouti safeta and Marianus had to say to one another.

Further up the road, there were more Anouti onlookers than Lorai. The ones that noticed Kirin gave him a wide berth, but generally their curiosity appeared to have overcome their fear. They leaned forward to steal glimpses of Marianus, Korban, and the others exactly like the Lorai spectators had. It was as though they felt little or nothing for their southern comrades. But then, when Kirin had been in Marianus’s service, he’d overheard talk that ek-Anout and Kemassen had been enemies but a few generations ago. Perhaps to them, allying with Lorar was simply exchanging one overlord for another.

A mannish-looking woman—or maybe a womanish-looking man?—shoved Kirin hard and he stumbled against a cluster of Anouti priests in long brown robes, to a flurry of scoffing.

Maybe not everyone viewed Lorar and Qemassen in such terms.

Kirin quickly slid away, seeking anonymity in the crowd, but there was no hiding his pale face or his Lorai clothing. He tried not to meet the eyes of the people around him, keeping his gaze down, shrinking his body inwards.

“Excuse me,” Kirin muttered in trembling Anouti. The words creaked from his lips after years without practice.

A woman’s sweet, trilling laugh bristled across his skin and he turned, ready to bark an insult, but the speaker was laughing and pointing at something with a friend. She hadn’t even seen Kirin.

At last the road ended.

The home of the safeta looked much like the temples Kirin had seen nearer the water, with the same slanted walls, the same gloomy arch allowing a dim view of the sheltered interior. Men in thin white and black robes stood stoically upon the steps leading up to the building, their hands folded in front of them as slaves fanned them with huge white ostrich feathers.

Kirin avoided any of the spots closest to where Marianus would emerge, hanging back to lurk under the feeble shadow of a tall fountain. The trickling water at least helped to drown out the ringing in his ear.

“Lupo Aethalus,” spoke a calm, clear voice. Varco.

“Heron!” Kirin bowed hurriedly. He hadn’t noticed that Varco Drenda was sitting in the same patch of shade. In Kirin’s defense, Varco was dressed like a common soldier. He sat on the ledge of the fountain like a wife gossiping at the village well, legs crossed.

Kirin wasn’t the only one who’d been in search of some anonymity, it turned out.

Varco Drenda tilted his chin expectantly. “Well? Why aren’t you with the troops, celebrating? It was a victory, but all victories have their costs, and I would have thought you deserved the distraction.”

At first, Kirin couldn’t focus on what Varco had actually asked. He glanced at the water in the fountain—strewn with rocks and leaves and Lorai coins—then cupped a palmful of water. He splashed his face.

The water wasn’t much cooler than the air and it smelled of mildew. It was better than the stench of his own sweat though. He wet each of his armpits for good measure.

“There’s a public baths,” Varco said, a dark smile on his severe face.

Kirin grunted.

“Why aren’t you enjoying the victory march with the other soldiers?” Varco repeated.

Kirin wiped his wet face off on his forearm. “It reminds me too much of . . .” he sucked back a hiss, searching for the word but not finding it.

“Of the horror,” Varco intoned.

“Just so, Heron.”

Varco went silent. Kirin was happy to join him. It was enough to stand here with someone who seemed to understand—even someone he was certain detested him. Apart from the quiet, it was a little like standing with Yakov again.

As the parade reached them, the crowd thickened with Lorai and Anouti bodies. Children climbed onto the fountain’s rim, hemming Kirin and Varco in. The air was clogged with a soupy, salty sweatiness, interrupted every so often by the sharp bite of perfume.

Kirin inched closer to Varco.

As Korban’s platform reached the steps of the Anouti senate house, Varco turned from the sight. He cleared his throat. “Have you ever been burned, Kirin? No, I suppose you haven’t. An object heated by fire and left against the flesh leaves a brand upon the skin. And so our mark remains, like that of a burning hand gripped about Kemassen’s throat.”

Like Kirin’s hands clenched around Silices’s neck as Kirin watched his tongue blacken and his eyes bulge.

Kirin reached for the subtle mark around his throat where his slave’s collar had hugged his neck for so long. No, he’d never been branded or burned, but the image of Silices’s corpse had been scratched onto the mirrors of his eyes.

Varco stood from the fountain and stretched his neck as though struggling to see over the spectators in front of him. “Have you seen that man again?”

“That man?” asked Kirin. Only as he spoke did he realize who Varco must mean: the stalker. Varco thought he was Marianus’s spy, but if that were true, why hadn’t Kirin been arrested? “No, Heron. I’ve had the battle on my mind, so I hadn’t been looking.”

Varco didn’t bother turning to acknowledge Kirin. After a lengthy pause, he spoke again. “He’s here you know.”

“Who?” Kirin’s heart raced. So, maybe the anger hadn’t died in him entirely. “Oran?”


Just as quickly, Kirin’s excitement died. Of course Varco meant Marianus—he didn’t care about Oran at all. Maybe he didn’t even remember his promise to Kirin about helping him.

Kirin cocked his chin back in the direction of the procession. “I know. I saw him. He was putting on a show as usual.”

Varco cracked a smile. “That’s very presumptuous of you, soldier. He is still a senator.”

“I’ll take my chances, Heron.”

The commander took a step out from the relief of the shade and into the sunlight. The men nearest him moved out of the way as soon as they noticed the sword at his belt. “You know, Kirin, despite myself, I’m beginning to think I might like you.”

“Don’t,” Kirin joked, unsure what to say and frightened of any sincerity, “you’ll be dead before the day’s done.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

Varco Drenda disappeared into the crowd. Minutes later, he reappeared on the steps of the Anouti courthouse. He slid in amongst the Anouti safeta with the ease of a bird rejoining its flock. He wasn’t the only Lorai officer on the stairs now.

Finally, Marianus’s chariot reached the senate house.

The Pater of Lorar descended his chariot and joined a bustle of commanders and captains who’d taken part in the battle. He was dressed in full regalia, the gold detailing on his ceremonial armour turning him to a vision of Lorius himself.

As soon as Marianus’s slippers touched the first step, every single Anouti saftan dropped to his knees in perfect unison. One by one they raised their arms in supplication. Varco Drenda and all the others knelt, but not so low as the safeta.

The light shifted to the side of the senate house, drawing Kirin’s attention from the scene playing out on the steps. Beneath the shadow of the senate house, tucked close against the wall, the fat, scraggly-haired woman Kirin had seen at the docks stood watching the display. Her arms were crossed. Kirin didn’t need to be close to her to know that her angry eyebrow and her yellow eyes were contorted in a glower just like earlier. He might have thought she meant some harm to the officials on the steps if she weren’t so unathletic.

A black man in Anouti dress stepped out from the senate doors. He held a trumpet in his hands and didn’t look like the safeta. He must be a court musician or scribe.

With a lone, hard trumpet-blast he silenced the crowd. “Kneel, people of ek-Anout! Kneel before your king and master! Kneel before the might of Lorar! Neither man nor god stands against them, only fools seeking empty deaths! Kneel, people of ek-Anout! Bow to your masters!”

King. Neither ek-Anout nor Lorar had kings.

Marianus was enjoying this. Kirin didn’t have to see his face to know.

Yakovius was always claiming that Marianus had longed for kingship. Well, here it was.

Marianus turned on his heel and raised his arms toward the sky just like the Anouti safeta were still doing. As though he were benevolent.

As though he were a god.

It was a good thing ek-Anout was overflowing with temples.

Men and women crept onto the road in dribs and drabs at first, but soon Anouti onlookers began to abandon the sides of the street in greater numbers. Parents guided children who clutched tunics or skirts or their parents’ hands. Some of them cried, some laughed. Most looked confused.

The whistle-hum in Kirin’s hear pitched higher and grew louder with every family who pressed their foreheads to the ground before Marianus Rufus.

Tawdry. Vile. Base.

An entire nation dusted their foreheads with dirt as their leaders gave up their country to its enemies.

Pity, but not blame, burned in Kirin’s chest.

Humiliation was the price of survival.

“Then rise again!” the trumpeter bellowed.

Kirin jumped at the sudden proclamation.

“Rejoice!” continued the trumpeter, his voice ringing out clear and deep despite the effort it must take to speak so loudly. “For you have been changed! You are not men of Lorar, not yet, but you can strive to be so, and emulate the governors left to shepherd us by our good senator!”

There didn’t seem to be much rejoicing. The Anouti looked on with dazed expressions, as though trapped in a terrible dream.

At least Lorar brought civilization and the protection of empire. Yet as Kirin looked upon the citizens of Ledan, they had clothes and jewels and manners of their own. They had temples—so many temples—and streets and houses. To these people, such things were ordinary, such things were home, and perhaps, they were even civilized.

Kirin searched for the scraggly-haired woman against the senate house wall, but she was gone. He couldn’t imagine that she’d joined the men and women bowing in the dirt. If she meant Marianus and the safeta harm, she was concocting her plans elsewhere.

Up on the wheeled platforms, soldiers untied the noble captives from their posts. As Korban was lifted under the armpits by two soldiers, the safeta on the steps stood back up.

Korban shrieked as he was hauled onto the sand. He fell forward, out of the soldiers’ grip and onto the ground. He screamed.

Kirin stepped forward to get a better look, unable to stop himself.

Men and women fled back from the spectacle. A child near Kirin started wailing, its mother shushing him hurriedly, as though she expected the pair of them to be trussed up like the Masseni prisoners.

The soldiers pulled Korban to his feet again to the sound of more screams.

Bones protruded from the sides of either of his long legs.

He must be in agony.

The soldiers dragged Korban all the way to the steps, then pressed his neck down against their edge.

Kirin grit his teeth, half expecting one of the soldiers to smash his foot down onto Korban’s neck and crack it against the step.

From the corner of Kirin’s eye, a hooded figure pressed through the retreating crowd, aiming directly for Korban, Marianus, and the safeta.

It took a moment for it to sink in that Kirin knew that silhouette and that cloak. It was the man from the graveyard and from the roof on Zimrida.

Kirin’s stalker.

And he was making his way to Marianus.

Kirin ploughed after him, shoving spectators aside in his urgency. The stranger was walking fast, but not so fast that Kirin couldn’t reach him. There were only a few Anouti between them.

So close.

The stalker was going to stride right onto the road in front of Marianus. What was his game?

Kirin grabbed for his cloak, but the figure tore away. He didn’t even turn around, focused entirely on what was happening in front of the senate house.

Was he planning to tell Marianus where Kirin was? It was hardly the time.

“Here lies the pride of the Masseni fleet, bound and screaming!” announced the trumpeter. “Here lies the destiny of those who would stand against Lorar!”

A heavyset man wielding a large sagaris axe materialized from inside the senate house. His slow, steady footfalls thundered down the steps, ball-shrinking muscles glistening under the harsh sunlight as though they’d been oiled for the event.

“Stop!” Kirin called to the stranger, but it was too late, the man was out in the open, running toward the executioner. “Stop!”

What in the Good Ones’ halls was he doing?

Kirin burst onto the road.

Marianus, Varco, and every single saftan or Lorai officer turned to stare at Kirin. Only the executioner wasn’t paying attention to either Kirin or the hooded stranger.

The executioner brought down his weapon, but the stranger had unsheathed a long-sword as he ran, and he drew it up to meet the heavier weapon. He knocked the executioner off balance as the axe clanged against the stairs and onto the ground. Pulled by the weight of his weapon, the executioner toppled along with the sagaris.

A pair of Lorai soldiers rushed the hooded man but darted left and disemboweled the pair of them with a single sweep of his sword. A foreign word in a language Kirin didn’t recognize roared from the stranger’s throat as he beat back another soldier.

He was targeting Marianus.

Varco stepped into the hooded stranger’s path. He drew his gladius and swung it wide, forcing the stranger back against the now-recovered executioner. The executioner wrapped his massive arms around the would-be killer and squeezed till the stranger’s sword fell from his fingers.

Varco marched up to him and ripped back his hood.


It wasn’t her, but he looked like her—even more so than he had when Kirin had seen him in the graveyard. He was older than Kirin, probably in his forties, with scars that crisscrossed his sunburnt face to match his years.

“Kill him, Sesa?” called the executioner.

Several of the safeta had clustered together in fear, and the question provoked a flurry of chatter.

Before they could answer, Marianus stepped out from behind Varco’s protection. “No! Take that one alive. He has a familiar set to his face. I’ll speak with him later.”

And then Marianus set his sights on Kirin.

The senator narrowed his eyes. “As for that one, if the gladiator wants to play soldier, he can die like one. Let him sail to Kemassen and break his bones upon the rocks like a true man of Lorar.”

The executioner looked almost reluctant to let his prey go. Two Lorai soldiers pried the stranger from his grasp though and hurried him off in the direction of the docks. As he was rushed away, he raised his head and looked directly at Kirin.

Did he expect Kirin to help him? There was nothing Kirin could do. He didn’t even know who the stranger was, let alone what was in his head to have raged after Marianus in front of so many armed men.

Kirin stared at the stranger until he vanished from sight, frozen in place.

Back in the direction of the senate house stairs, metal scraped against stone.

The executioner had hold of his sagaris again.

Still pressed to the step, Korban’s chest barely rose and fell. He was half-dead already.

“For Lorar!” the trumpeter repeated, to bring some ceremony back to the occasion. “Let no man stand against her!”

“For Lorar!” called Marianus, gesturing for the people to emulate him.

The axe fell to a chorus of cheers and Kirin closed his eyes.

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