Interlude - The Sacrifice

"If your story is true," Dar'ja said, settling into his chair behind the stone table, "Then you have saved one of our chief priests from imprisonment." He squinted up at Galatina with his mole-like eyes. "If it's true."

Galatina stood before him, arms folded, frowning down at Dar'ja. So, this little man was here to decide her fate.

When Kardhoom had fallen prey to insurgents in the prison, the priests didn't know what to do with Galatina. She had arrived not as a prisoner but as Kardhoom's honored guest. Unfortunately, Kardhoom was not conscious long enough to explain why. So the priests had sent her to Dar'ja.

"I have no reason to lie," Galatina said, keeping the contempt out of her voice. "I helped Kardhoom escape Graden."

"You have every reason to lie," Dar'ja said with a cruel smile, spreading his hands. "We would have rescued Adept Kardhoom without your help. What did you do? Give him his weapon? That is nothing. We sent more than a dozen armed riders."

"Then why do you think I came here?" Galatina asked.

Dar'ja sat back in his chair and studied her. "I don't know."

"I have information that could help you. I am Galatina, the greatest prophetess in the world."

Dar'ja smiled. "Be serious. There is no prophecy. Not since our transformation of the world."

Galatina's eyes darkened. "Why do you say this?"

At this, Dar'ja laughed. It was a high, annoying laugh. "You may claim to be the greatest prophetess, but I have access to a network that monitors the thoughts and dreams of dozens of prophets that I daresay have foresight far superior to yours, not to mention hundreds more that possess some touch of insight. That network showed us everything we needed to know about the predicted usurper. The insights ended the moment the world transformed. Now our prophets see nothing. Our prisoners with the gift see nothing."

"And so you assume no one can see," Galatina said.

"It is a logical conclusion."

"It is faulty logic."

Dar'ja frowned. He clasped his hands over his chest and stared up at her, saying nothing. Galatina waited.

"Tell me, Galatina," Dar'ja said. "Did you predict you would be welcome here in Cavaheim? Did you foresee this conversation ending with my acceptance of your story?"

"Let me speak to your leader, and I predict that he will be most grateful for the information I have."

"You would speak to our king?"

Galatina laughed. She had been waiting for this moment. She let her arms fall to her sides. "Your Basha? Your so-called usurper?"

"Excuse me?"

"I want to talk to the man who pulls the strings, not the figurehead. Kardhoom told me the story of Basha on the way to your city. I realized this young man could not be the true power, a fact that not even your chiefest priests know."

Dar'ja looked stunned. His mouth hung open.

"But you know, don't you?" Galatina asked.

"I should have you killed."

"To silence me? But then you won't know what I know."

"And what do you know?"

"I know why your efforts to become gods failed."

Again, Dar'ja sat stunned.

"So, may I speak to the one in charge or not?"

It was clear Dar'ja was deliberating over his next words. He was a careful man, used to keeping secrets. He would not admit she was right so quickly. He'd keep the focus on Galatina instead.

"Why would you help us," he asked.

"Because I want to be on the winning side."

"You would betray your own people?"

Galatina's smile faltered. "I have no people."

"Is that so? You said you were an advisor to the mayor, a position of power."

"Advisor to a fool," Galatina snapped, and she felt the color rise in her cheeks. "One fool among many. I was once an advisor to presidents and kings. My insight steered the policies of nations. But when I predicted the coming Rat Messiah?" She scoffed. "I was ridiculed, scorned. I fell from being the most influential voice in the world to a mere curiosity. When the mishmash event occurred..."

"The what?" Dar'ja leaned forward, curious.

"Sorry. It's a term that's common in Graden—something from the internet. When your world transformation occurred, I was reduced to making predictions for peasants in a backwards midwest casino. My point is, I am not loyal to the people who betrayed me. I would prefer to support someone who appreciates my insights."

She leaned forward and placed her hands on the stone table between herself and the little man. "So, tell me, may I speak to the person in Cavaheim who holds the real power?"

Again, Dar'ja studied her. He was close now. Soon, he would trust her.

"You cannot speak to him."

"Why not?"

"Because Jarrock readies himself for the second world transformation."

At last, Galatina thought. A name. Jarrock, head of the Ord.

"Don't you think he would appreciate more insight into how he might succeed?"

"He does not speak your language."

"What about the translation devices? I've seen your priests wearing them."

"He will not muddy his concentration with foreign voices. He focuses on the words of the incantation he's learned from the dream network. No one but he possesses all the knowledge, and he believes that new languages will only confuse his mastery of the precise wordings that will bring him ultimate power."

"Then I would speak with his second in command."

Dar'ja gave a smug smile and sat back in his chair. "That would be me. You can tell me your secret."

Galatina's brow raised. "You?"

"What? You didn't predict you'd meet someone so high in the ranks?"

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"Your standing as a prophetess has just dropped a few rungs in my estimation." He cleared his throat and took on a serious demeanor. "You yourself admitted I know the true power in Cavaheim. Jarrock is that power. But in matters of administration, he defers to me. He has much more on his mind at the moment."

"If I tell you what I know, will you guarantee I do not end up in your prison?"

"We have plenty of prisoners. You wouldn't make much of a difference now."

Galatina frowned down at him. This was it. Should she tell him?

She stepped back and folded her arms again. "You say you have a network capable of following the dreams of every prophet within your city?"

"And many more people. Before the transformation, we gathered insights from every willing citizen."

"And did your network identify the people involved in the transformation?"

"Basha was the only—"

"That's the story you told the people. I'm talking about the true dreams. Do you know nothing of the faces of those involved?"

Dar'ja stared at his hands. "We are straying close to a dangerous topic."

"Because Jarrock was never in those dreams, was he? Neither was Basha."

"The faces in those dreams is immaterial. Jarrock cobbled together everything he needed from those dreams to perform the transformation himself. All the words of the spell were there for Jarrock to learn. He wasn't fulfilling the prophecy. He was preempting it. Jarrock followed the steps, and the transformation was nearly successful. You see the evidence in the world as it stands."

"Nearly successful," Galatina repeated. "Except you weren't. I see no gods here. Do you?"

Dar'ja's eyes remained on his hands. "Jarrock will be prepared next time. He will succeed. He will seize the throne of God Himself."

"Of course he will, because I will tell him who he needs to make the transformation successful."

Dar'ja's eyes shot up. Slowly, he stood. "You... You know the identity of the predicted Usurper?"

Galatina laughed. "I doubt that would help you. There can be only one Usurper, and your Jarrock wants to be that one and only. But I know something far better. I know the identify of the boy predicted to be his human sacrifice."

next page...

page published 6/22/2017