The Coming of Twilight
Zacharion, Yearling and Sihaya broke camp a few days later, having satisfied their need to fill all their provision needs, and set out once more.
“Where are we going?” Sihaya said, curious.
“Before we strike out towards the Sons of Ken, first we must visit a long-forgotten ruin of a temple.” Zacharion said, “It exists in a place of perpetual gloom, resting at all times between day and night. Therein we are to seek out knowledge we must have before we seek the homeland of the Sons of Ken.”
“What knowledge?” Yearling asked.
“Where we can find the Twilight Son, the child born of the previous union of Sun and Moon, who will be able to ensure that the Daughter of Ken meant to be my Moon-wife and I will fulfill our duties to Man and the Creator.”
Sihaya waved at Zacharion. “Does this son have a name?”
“Not quite. He has a label, passed from one to the next as the Sun and Moon select their own mortal agents. As he represents the last remnant of the Creator’s chosen people, he is called ‘Seph’. The Dark Lords of old, in turn, toiled for the traitorous servants of the Creator, and they spawned the race of liars known as the Khazarim.”
Yearling looked worried. “Did not my mistress and your master not throw them all down?”
Zacharion nodded. “The Dark Lords are forever gone, beyond the reach of all but the very Creator that they spurned ages ago, but the Khazarim remain. If left unchecked, they will succeed their masters. This much I know because Ilker taught me well his own history.”
The others nodded, agreeing, having heard similar lore from their own elders.
“Why would Seph hide? Would he not know, as we do, when this work of yours must be done?” Sihaya asked, “Or does he remain secluded until the time comes?”
Zacharion shrugged. “I don’t know. All that I do know is that, to be certain, we go there first and learn how to find him. Ilker said that the knowledge rests there, and the Witch confirmed it.”
* * * * * *
Many days passed as they travelled through dense forests and across many lakes and rivers, the hills increasing in size and number as they made their way north. Then, at the headwaters of what was once a great and powerful river said to divide the whole of the Old World in two, the three of them saw not far away a ruined building, and in their youthful eyes it seemed to match the descriptions of temples to the gods and saints that once ruled the peoples of the Old World before the Azure Flames.
They marked its features as they drew closer. Its frame remained standing, as did its roof, but what once seemed to be windows had long since been destroyed somehow—in their places crude wood planks, half-rotted now, stood—and its main gate seemed unlikely to open due to the pervasive rust on the iron-wrought doorframe.
Zacharion felt a warm spot on his forehead, at the spot of Ilker’s Kiss, and understood.
“This is the place.” Zacharion put down his burden. “It’s been a long journey, and this ruin will be here tomorrow. I say that we camp here and tonight and go on tomorrow.”
Yearling nodded, as did Sihaya, and they too put down their burdens. They made camp, and drew fresh water from the springs feeding into the headwaters nearby. Yearling brought down game and over their fire the three considered their position.
“We’ve been fortunate so far.” Zacharion said, cutting a piece of venison from the whole, “I’ve had one hostile encounter after Solland, and none since the Witch’s sanctum. It is unreasonable for this to endure. Once the cunning amongst the wicked deduce what is truly going on, a full search for us will begin.”
“Will they not also seek out this girl?” Sihaya asked.
Yearling laughed, and he too cut a piece for himself. “The Khazarim—for they are the only ones left cunning enough to deduce the facts—would have to send an army into the homeland of the Sons of Ken to kill her. If the beasts native to their lands do not destroy such a force, the Sons will, and any seeking to slip past them will find the Daughters of Ken to be no less dangerous. The women chosen by the Moon are never, ever weak.”
“She is well-protected, and already as formidable as you are, my warrior-princess.” Zacharion said, “I’ve seen her from afar when I visited the Witch, and her father is the warlord that your father and mother once travelled alongside.”
“The Painbringer is her father?!”
The boys nodded and smiled. “Imagine, then, what woman could possibly be a worthy wife to him- and thus this girl’s mother!” Yearling said, “Oh no, there is no reasonable threat to her at all.”
Zacharion then took her by the hand and locked his eyes with hers. “It is I, Sihaya, that is in peril here. The Moon-girl has a great and powerful warrior-nation surrounding her, guiding her, and training her to be the Moon on Earth. I am bereft of my master, with naught but you and Yearling to support me and relying on only what we three alone can do to stay alive and fulfill my duty. It is I, not she, they seek to butcher.”
Zacharion turned over Sihaya’s hands and put his palm to hers. “I rely upon you to take these, your soft and courtly hands, and harden them into the hands of a warrior-woman in truth- and in this I will see that your heart becomes your hands, and your courage becomes your prowess. Our enemies did not think that your mother was a threat until after she cut them down and their foul ichor sprayed the ground, and neither do they think that you are anything other than a foolish, headstrong girl with dreams of wooing princes in your head.”
Sihaya, then, for the first time, felt a terrible tremor in Zacharion’s voice: “Your father taught you how to fight. I will teach you how to kill.”
Silence dropped down on them suddenly, as the weight of the words grew too heavy to hold, but only for a moment.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because you love me,” he said, “and I love you.”
The echo between them and Sihaya’s parents was not lost on either of them, though only he knew that both of them realized it at that time, and thus began the transformation of Sihaya of Solland into Sihaya the Sun’s Shield.