9. Sunset

The sun is descending, she thinks as the glowing shades of orange cover the houses with shadows and light. Sitting in the mud, Tachi gazes out at the empty sty, thinking about the seven pigs huddled in the small wooden hut she sits against. Their quieting squeals drop into restive snores. They know what is coming, and so does she. Am I looking at you for the last time, God? she wonders as the brilliant disk of fire just touches the horizon.

A year, a year ago they came. Tachi had been carrying the suncakes into the sanctuary. They had mixed the batter and set them out to cook on the giant white stones that topped the little wall, which was no higher than her waist, surrounding all the world she knew. She had started at the gate, and picked up each small light-brown pastry, setting them in her basket, until she had circled the stone structure she lived in, ending where she began. She thought back to when she could barely reach the top of the wall, when she had to devise ways of climbing on top of it and steeling the salty treats.

She couldn’t help but let a tear fall, knowing this little chore, this small task she had seemingly done every day of her life, was to be given to the new acolyte. Facing her home, she smiled, wiping her eyes. This too, she thought, I may never come back and see this place again.

Sniffling, she imagined where she would go. With a half-smile, Tachi thought of journeying to the Hunter’s Mountain, working as a healer. She imagined what it would be like, living in a world vowed to silence. Or, heading to the shores of the Forbidden Sea, she wondered, finally taking a step toward the sanctuary. Her head filled itself with harpooners battling a monstrous tentacle creature, and dragging it onto land.

But she would never eat those cakes that had dried in the sun, or take the first pilgrimage she now daydreamed of. Halfway down the path, she was torn from her fantasies by a loud crack. Turning, she saw that the gate had been kicked down. A hunter, or a man in a hunter’s black robes, stood upon the fallen wooden door with his sword held high. Behind him, three more men, traders in brown and white garments, held crude clubs.

She made to run, of course, but felt an arm hook around her stomach before she got to the sanctuary door. Thrown to the ground, she lay unable to breathe. Above her, the hunter was turning away toward the stone building. Replacing him, a trader came with a rope, and started tying her hands together. She watched the hunter enter her home, his blade shining in the sun. As he left the sanctuary, it dripped with blood. The hunter came over, and placed the flat of his sword upon Tachi’s shoulder.

“Swear, Witch,” he shouted, “That you will not use your powers to escape your bondage. Swear on the sun.”

Watching the setting sun, Tachi thinks on that oath she had taken, that unbreakable oath. The shadows grow long, stretching over the pigpen, and even into the window where Richard sleeps. As the darkness touches his face, the hunter awakes. Sitting up, he groans, clutching his side. Turning to the window he looks out at the majestic ball of light and spots a little brown girl sitting in the mud. Blinking, he searches the room for clothes. There are none.

Pulling himself out of the bed, he begins a wheezing struggle, limping to the open door. Barely keeping over his feet, he staggers out into the twilight. Darkness falls as the hunter stumbles to the gate. With a hand he fights the lock, but it will not give. He kicks the door down. Walking over it, he comes to Tachi’s side, untying the knot binding her to the pigsty. Letting out a groan Richard fall into her, his side burning like fire.

Coming under his arm, she lifts him up. Together, they walk toward the small shelter.



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