• Chapter 2
    The sun was hot in the sky and the heat poured down upon the land like an overseer. Many refused to work, saying it was suicide to try and work through it, and those that tried had to retire after a couple hours. Even those in charge had to agree with their workers, staying at their homes with the curtains drawn and their clothes absent in their privacy.

    Those that did venture outside were either taking advantage of the hot weather to do laundry so it could dry quickly or they had somewhere to be. Most were covered heavily with clothing to keep the sun from frying their skin but those outside for a moment to make sure the wind didn’t take their clothes away were sparely clothed without a care of who happened to see.

    One woman still washing her clothes outside and hanging them to dry hailed a boy passing by on the street.

    “Good afternoon.”

    The boy, covered by a hooded cloak much too large for him, stopped and turned to talk to the woman, his face covered in sweat from the heat and a gentle smile he was recognized for.

    “Good afternoon again, ma’am,” he said, “Doing laundry in this heat?”

    “Yeah, taking an advantage. It will dry in half an hour with the sun like this.”

    “I see,” he said cheerfully.

    The woman pointed around the street at the rest of the laundry hanging up in between the streets. “I’m not the only one. No one can work in this heat so most people have been doing laundry so they could at least get something done, though I suppose you don’t have that issue,” she said after looking him up and down, “You wear the same thing every day. You do laundry and you’re naked!”

    She laughed and the boy joined in as well. It seemed like he wore the same thing every day because he had been wearing the cloak every day, covering whatever he was wearing underneath unless he took it off.

    He even pointed out once their laugher started to die down. “It is because you cannot see what I am wearing under this thing,” he started to walk away slowly because he really had to get going but he still had his attention on the conversation.

    “Yeah, you’re probably wearing barely anything at all under there for all we know.”

    He laughed, “Or I might not be wearing anything at all.” After a moment, he added, “I got to get going though. Bye.”

    He left the woman a bit bewildered but he headed down the street as he had been before he was stopped. The woman wasn’t laughing but she was imagining if he really wasn’t wearing clothing under his cloak, then cursed herself for doing so and went back to her laundry.

    The boy was actually wearing a wrap under his cloak, for he would have never walked outside without clothes on underneath. The wrap was a bright orange and wrapped around not only his waist but also around his chest and it was stuck to his skin like a snake. His sweat made it damp to the touch and half the time he wanted to take it off but he wanted something on his waist, even if it rode up from the way he had wrapped it around his body, and taking it off his chest meant he had to figure out a new way to wrapped it around his waist to where the sheer weight of the sodden fabric wouldn’t make it fall down.

    He was heading to the church, which had a straight path out to the lake where it rested like a mountain. It’s sandy color matched the color of the ground behind until it broke to the blue sky. Being on the water, it had no neighbors but it was hottest place on the planet when it was hotter than hell outside. On a day like today, he wished he could go anywhere but there.

    He walked past the heavy front doors, knowing he didn’t have the strength to push them open, and went straight to the left, opening the side door near the end of the building. The door was actually for the school, which was the only reason the church was as big as it was, and the hall was the same color as the outside of the building, only looking darker because there was less light.

    He shut the door and made his way to head priest’s office, which was all the way down the hall and to the left, last door on the right. But when he made it down to the door, he went to the left instead into an small open waiting room with about five chairs in it right against the wall. He took the second from the left, since walking in a straight line lead him to it, and collapsed in it.

    The first thing he took care of was getting the cloak off his skin and exposing his legs and the wrap around his waist to the sticky air. It was hot but it was better than keeping the cloak on and he was grateful for at least that small comfort. He took a deep breath, sagged in the chair, and closed his eyes,. He felt tired enough to fall asleep right then in there but before he knew it, someone beckoned to him.

    “I wish I could relax like you. Heaven knows with what trouble you have with that wrap compared to this robe I have to wear.”

    The boy smiled and opened his eyes and there before him was the head priest, balding black hair and all. He indeed looked the hotter of the two in his black robe that covered him from neck to wrist to ankle but he wasn’t wearing any shoes and the boy knew the stone floor was much colder than anything one could get their hands on in town. He wanted to take off his straw sandals to feel them too but they were tied to his ankles and he knew that if he bent down to untie them, he would probably fall over and wouldn’t have the strength to get back up.

    So instead, he stood and greeted the head priest, shaking his hand like one would do with a good friend.

    “Pardon me, father, but isn’t the wearing of your robe in this heat a sign of your great faith?”

    The head priest laughed heartily. “Think you’re smart, huh? Well let’s see what God thinks of your humor when you face the gate.” He patted the boy’s back and lead him into the hall despite his grim choice of words.

    And the boy was still smiling. “You know I only like to see you smile, father. It’s the least I can do for all you have done for me. But today I wonder why I agreed on Tuesdays, with the weather like this outside.”

    The priest still lead him through the hall and towards the place of prayer. “God has his ways, my son; give him time. With a lad a sweet as you, God can only love you as he loves all his children, but who knows why you’re all by yourself in this world. Your parents must not have seen who you really are, else they would have never let you go.”

    The boy’s smile wavered at the comment but his eyes remained lonely as he pretended to brush the comment aside. “So, what will you have me do today?”

    They entered the place of prayer and in the second row was a young boy of about seven, his eyes focused on the floor. His dark hair fell in front of his face but one look at him was all it took to know he was in some kind of trouble.

    The head priest brought the older boy closer to him and whispered to him, “That lad’s been having trouble with his letters. Would you help him? He wants to go home like the others but he didn’t have his homework done so I had to keep him here. He won’t listen to the other priests when they offer to help but I remembered that you come on these days so I thought it would be worth a try.” The older boy nodded.

    Backing away from his ear, the priest lead him straight to the other boy, the young one lifting his head upon their approach. He had a strong face, like many of the people in town, but the position of his mouth spoke of stubbornness and his dark eyes gleamed with a plead for sympathy. He looked unfazed by the older boy’s arrival.

    The priest introduced him. “This is Jepherias, a volunteer here at the church. He says he will help you with your letters so you can finish your paper.” And since the head priest had forgotten the younger one’s name, he left they way he came so they could get started.

    Jepherias watched the priest leave and then turned to the boy in the pew. Before anything else passed between them, he was on his knees and eye to eye with the boy, offering his hand.

    “Like he said, my name is Jepherias. What is yours?”

    The boy stared at him for a moment before slowly taking his hand and answering his question.


    Jepherias smiled. “Kilie? What a nice name. Do you know what it means?”

    This spurred a spark of interest in the dark eyes. “No.”

    “Would you like to know?”

    Without missing a beat, Kilie responded, “Yes.”

    “Well,” Jepherias began, “Kilie comes from the word Sylkilian, a festival in the east. It happens in the winter to celebrate the first snow hunt of the season. When the first snow falls, the hunters go out when it rests on the ground and when all the hunters come back, they feast on the prized beast, usually a deer or wildcat.”

    There was a pause for Kilie to think. “I was born in winter.”

    Jepherias beamed. “How about that? I’ve heard of Kilie and Kilia being names but I’ve never heard someone with them. Do you know how to spell your name? Show me.”
    Jepherias pointed to the paper in the pew next to the boy but he didn’t take it, not yet.

    “Are you sure you’re not a priest?” he asked.

    Jepherias stood and messed with the pin keeping his cloak on. “Pardon me.”

    When the cloak came off, the bright orange wrap was exposed, as was the sweaty skin of his arms, shoulders, and legs. His brick red hair lifted up with the hood and stayed there but the rest was stuck to his head like glue. With the heavy fabric off, one could better see Jepherias clearly and he wasn’t much older than the other boy, only about eight or nine years older.

    He had two reasons for taking off the cloak. One was that priests never showed so much skin, unless they pushed up their sleeves to cook and clean or pulled the skirt of their robe up to prevent it from getting wet or dirty. Any priest that showed any more than that was considered a shame to the faith. The other reason was because it was too hot and he finally had the opportunity to take it off.

    “Ah,” Jepherias sighed gratefully, “Much better.”

    He crouched back down to Kilie only to see the boy staring at him. It took him a moment to realize that the boy had never seen red hair before and brushed his hand through it in hopes of breaking the stare.

    “I see you’ve never seen this shade before. I, quite frankly, have no idea where it came from. Neither of my parents had any other shade of hair other than black and brown, though I have some brothers and sisters with shades different than mine.”

    There were legends out in the world that red heads were special people or that they were trouble with a capital T. Jepherias could just see those legends run through Kilie’s mind as he reached behind himself for paper and pencil, his eyes never leaving the bloody mane. He finally looked away when he was poised to write. Jepherias watched.

    “But what’s so bad about priests?” he asked, trusting that a conversation wouldn’t bother the boy’s concentration.

    “What’s so good about them?” he responded immediately.

    “I’m curious as to why you won’t accept help from them. What do you think of priests? I won’t tell.”

    Kilie finished writing his name and put the pencil down. After a moment, he responded with,

    “Priests can’t go to war, they can’t go beyond their church without permission, they can’t even protect the backs of their childhood friends and run back to the safety of their churches like cowards.”

    “I suppose you are right.” Jepherias managed to get in before the boy continued, his voice getting angrier the longer the conversation went.

    “I mean, what is their purpose?”

    “To help people.”

    Kilie stopped. “Huh?”

    “Think about it. What is church for?”

    He came up with the best answer his mind could think of. “Religious stuff?”

    “And what are religions for?”

    “To go to heaven?”

    Jepherias shook his head. “Nope. Not everyone goes to heaven, even if they try to redeem themselves.”

    “Then what else is there?”

    “Listen closely,” Jepherias looked quickly about the church and came closer to Kilie’s ear to whisper, “Religions are for those who have lost their way, whether it be now or later or even in a previous time. People need them to have faith in something. Priests are there to help people just like religion teaches them.” He pulled away and talked at a normal volume. “I owe a lot to this church alone. Most churches take in travelers like me and give them help until they are ready to leave and hit the road again. So while I’ve been here, I’ve been trying my best to give back to what they have given me. They surprisingly have a lot of odd jobs lying around.”

    Kilie no longer cared about the priests. “You’re a traveler? So you stay here?”

    “No, they have someone in town that opens their home for people like me. I come here every Tuesday after doing chores around the house and I even work a job in town for money so I won‘t starve when I leave.”

    “So, you’re leaving soon,” Kilie said in a depressing tone.

    Jepherias smiled, “But of course. A traveler cannot be a traveler if he stays in one place for too long. The longer you stay, the more attached you get to its people and them to you. Basically it’s like taking care of a cat scratch instead of taking care of a broken leg, if you get what I’m saying.”

    Kilie nodded.

    “But don’t worry. Father Deriminal is nice and the funniest around here, you could ask him for help if you need it. He just recently became a father, I believe. Or you could maybe ask the head priest, Father Incarson, if he wouldn’t mind and if he has the time. He’s always been great with kids, from what I hear. I bet he even helped your parents when they were going through school.”

    Kilie nodded again.

    Jepherias looked down at the paper with the name written on it and prompted the boy to pick up the pen again.

    “Now, that’s pretty good for a lad your age. Let’s see what else you can write and if you do good enough, I’ll send you home without doing the paper, but you might want to turn it in tomorrow, okay?”

    By the time Jepherias left the church, the sun was almost completely set. After he had helped Kilie with his letters, he sent him home, telling him that it was probably best to do his paper after he ate a little something. Then the head priest asked him to help with the roof and make sure the tiles weren’t leaking, since there were several leaks in the church. His only company up there was Father Deriminal, the priest closest to his age and the most talkative of the bunch. He didn’t even let him get a word in edgewise but Jepherias had done enough talking that day and decided to listen. The father had gotten a nasty burn on his nose by the time they were done but Jepherias had put his cloak back on and was thus spared, though his sticky skin thought otherwise.

    And then it was time for him to study with Father Grelen. Of all the fathers in the church, Father Grelen was the strictest and he was the only priest to have had a worldly education before settling into priesthood. Because of this, he was the only one Jepherias could learn anything from but it was hard to get him to take him on at first, for he hated children and Jepherias was young enough to still be one. Still, he won out in the end through a chess game, in which he had learned how to play from a sailor who loved games, amongst other things, on a boat he hitched a ride on. He didn’t win but he had intrigued Father Grelen enough to get him to teach him.

    Father Grelen knew just about every culture from beginning to present and Jepherias found out he was into magic, which was odd for a priest. He also found out that the priest had no aptitude for it so all he could teach was its history in various cultures. He only highlighted on good magic and barely mentioned the bad ones unless it was part of a country’s bloody past. He also informed him that learning about bad magic was a waste of his time.

    Tonight’s lecture was on a country far up north called Friden, in which Jepherias had traveled to before. He never mentioned that he knew a town or country unless prompted by the father, for he learned at the beginning that the father liked making him look like an idiot when he had been somewhere but hardly knew of its history and could not name any important deities or royals, so he kept quiet throughout most of it.

    At the end of the lecture, however, the father wanted to talk a bit. It was a rare occurrence for any of the fathers to talk about their past lives before coming priests and most talked only about their apprenticeships but few, like Father Deriminal, ever talked about such things with people outside of the priesthood.

    Father Grelen sighed and took a seat in one of the wooden chairs that was for the teacher. He always lectured standing up and Jepherias never saw him sit but he tried not to shift in his student stool so as not to look eager to leave.

    “I remember when I was your age,” the father began, “I was apprenticing at a church down the mountain from my home. My family rarely went to church because it so far down but I became a priest because I had no other place to go. I was the top scholar of my group and for that I was excluded from the others, seeking higher learning from the groups of men already priests. My knowledge of other countries and my experiences took me far and I almost became a Bishop once but I decided I was better off somewhere else. Then I came here.

    “I had never been in this town before. I had come from a small town because my parents wanted their children to lead healthy lives and the city air was horrid for the lungs but my hometown was nothing like here. The weather was mild every season but winter and it was so cold you could almost die in your own home. But here it is the opposite. We do have winter but it is the summers that are unbearable and the weather outside of winter is about as hot as any summer I ever had back home. I could spend fifteen minutes outside, even today, and get a nasty burn from the sun.”

    He looked to Jepherias with relaxed but lonely eyes. “But enough about the weather. I can tell you come from a large family, yes?”

    He nodded.

    “Then you too know what it is like to be one of many. For me, I was one of the younger sons, about third from the bottom. I had nine brothers and three sisters and our house, even though we were wealthy, could barely fit us all. I had to share a room with two of my other brothers and two became five when the eldest was married. Since he was the heir to the land, he and his wife lived in the second biggest room in the house and the room I had shared with my other brothers was the third, which is why we had five in the room instead of four. Needless to say, the room couldn’t quite fit five of us but we made do with what we had.

    “And as we grew up, the more brothers I lost. I had been living with the second oldest and the youngest to begin with but my third and fifth broth moved in later and so only I and the youngest inhabited the room when I became of age. There was nothing for me to do so I asked for my inheritance early and traveled to friends of the family around the globe. My parents had a lot of connections so I could stay in a country for free at times or I would find the cheapest place I could everywhere else. This wasn’t always the best idea, for I was mugged quite a few times but I was smart enough to not have more than a minor amount of money with me at all times so I didn’t suffer much of a setback.

    “And when I came back I still had nothing to do. My mother gossiped with the other ladies on Thursdays with some silly desserts they made their cooks make and she had heard one of the women mention that her eldest son refused to inherit and went to the church. The more she explained, the more my mother thought it was a good idea so about a week after I came home, she told me to pack my bags and she droved me to the church down the mountain and left me there. I hadn’t said a word about it and she didn’t let me even talk about it and by the time I was at the front of the church, I knew it was either this or I turned a beggar.

    “So I am not going to ask you about where you came from or why you are traveling when you’re hardly considered old enough to take care of yourself but I am going to say one thing: make sure you know what you want to do with your life if you ever decided to go home.”

    There was an unnerving silence in the room and Jepherias was trying to crumple up on the stool as best as he could without falling because it had suddenly turned cold, as seemed to be normal in this town after a scorching day. He kept the father’s words in his mind but his teeth were about to chatter if he didn’t get moving soon so he had nothing to say. He was waiting to be dismissed, though it didn’t seem as though his lecture wasn’t done yet.

    “You aren’t the oldest and a runaway, are you?” the priest asked.

    Jepherias shook his head, even though it went unseen. “Just the opposite.”

    “Ah, well being the youngest has it’s advantages. By the time they get to you, your parents have already seen everything so nothing you will do with give them a heart attack.”

    And the priest then proceeded to laugh. For such a strict man who had never sparked a smile in the presence of others, laughing was like a miracle of sorts. Jepherias jumped at the sound and almost fell out of his chair. The priest didn’t seem to notice that motion either.

    Once he finished with his good laugh, he sighed.

    “I heard you are leaving soon. I thought I would give you one more story to tell, in case you don’t want to give a lecture on anything I taught you. If you come by here again some time, see if I’m alive, alright?”

    Father Gelen was indeed old and his hair was completely white upon his head but Jepherias couldn’t picture the man dying any time soon. No one would kill a priest and he looked as healthy as a horse. Jepherias almost believe that he would die before the holy man would, but he wasn‘t about to say that out loud.

    The father took his silence as a good enough answer. “Today’s lesson is done. You are excused.”

    Jepherias nearly leaped out of the chair. He ran out the door as if it was breath of fresh air.

    “Thank you and goodbye, father. I’ll definitely visit if I come to this town again.”

    He said it so fast it took him a moment to realize he had said anything at all as he ran to the front of the church to see if Kilie really went home like he was supposed to. Sure enough, the boy was long gone and Jepherias slowed down so he would have enough energy to push the wooden doors open by himself.

    Right before he touched the door, however, a siren went off and Jepherias pulled his hand back and stepped back out of instinct. The fathers rushed in behind him, about five at first and then the rest trickled in.

    “It’s the alarm!” One of them cried.

    “Invaders in the town!” Another one yelled right after.

    By then, Father Incarson came rushing in. He was out of breath but he managed to yell over the din of the other fathers in their panic.

    “Calm down! We have divine protection here. They invaders will hit us last, if at all.”

    That seemed to be enough to shut the rest of the squabbling priests up. They waited for the father to catch his breath so he could give them more direction.

    “Okay, we are going to stay calm. If we panic, we teach the people there is a reason to panic. First, we go into the streets and bring back people too far from their homes and give them shelter. If we do so quickly, we can protect more than ourselves. But before you go out, we need to…”

    Jepherias loved listening to people who made sense but right now he had no time to listen to sense. He wasn’t a priest so he wasn’t the one being talked to and if he was going to grab his things, he had to use all the time he had.

    He pushed open the door and surprised eleven priests by the creak of the door.

    The closest priest, Father Matni, put his hand on his shoulder. “What are you doing, lad? There are people out there that can hurt you.”

    Jepherias shrugged the hand off. “I have to get back.”

    If the father saw his desperate face, it was the reason he let him go. If it wasn’t, it was because he either didn’t like him or he was still stunned about the situation and only reacted after he was already halfway down the first street.

    He had to get back to where he was staying soon, for it was getting dark fast and though he didn’t see any of the invaders, he was carefull to make little sound. It was at this time he wished he wasn’t wearing sandals because they threatened to fly off as he sprinted down the way.

    He didn’t make it before the sky got dark. It was a lot darker than usual, however, because the lanterns weren’t lit yet, everyone taking shelter from the sudden alarm. Nevertheless, Jepherias ran onward, hoping his body knew the way from the path he took every Tuesday. It was good enough but since it was dark, he kept running into things people had left in the streets and was nearly knocked down every time. If the invaders were near by, they would find him.

    But luck was on his side and soon he found himself at the door to the house he was staying at. He pounded on the door as hard as he could and yelled so someone would have to come to the door to get him.

    “Let me in! Let me in! Let me in! Mrs. Ellina, Please let me in!”

    Mrs. Ellina was the woman of the house. She and her husband had opened her home to travelers to better serve the church and Jepherias was glad she did. Not only was she a nice lady, she was also a good cook.

    But she wasn’t the one to answer the door. The moment the door opened, Jepherias, who had put his weight on it, came stumbling in and only stopped when he hit his knee on the chair and hit the floor, hard. He held his injured knee for a moment as it throbbed and the one who opened the door came to help him to his feet.

    The helper tried to bring him to a chair by a fireman carry and Jepherias got a godo look at his savior. It was Vaal and though Jepherias appreciated the help, he pulled his arm off and hugged the older man, trusting his full weight on both his legs as he said breathlessly,

    “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

    And without waiting for a response, he stumbled up the stairs like his life depended upon him getting into his room as soon as possible. If Vaal ever said anything, he didn’t hear it.
    The room he occupied was small but just enough for him and his things. It also had a window so he woke up every morning to the sun but in a moment, this room wouldn’t be his anymore. He gathered all his belongings into his knapsack and traded his sandals for his boots before he bolted back down to the front door.

    He was stopped on the stairs by Vaal.

    “Where do you think you’re going? We’re in a lock down,” his rough voice whispered.

    “I’m sorry but I don’t have time to explain. I have to go.” Jepherias said in a normal tone.
    Vaal put his hand on his mouth to quiet his voice. “Shh. For all we know, the intruders could be walking down the street and no one is making a sound so they could possibly make us out even if we talk as soft as possible. Keep your voice down.”

    He nodded and his mouth was released.

    “Now, explain yourself. You’re not getting out of that door unless it’s a matter of live and death.”

    Jepherias didn’t say a word, for it was a matter of life and death but he would need to explain so much and time was so short. His fierce eyes stared into Vaal’s. The man was shaken but he didn’t let the boy get to him.

    “I take words, not eyes.”

    Jepherias said the first thing that came to mind that would make their discussion as short as possible. “Mrs. Ellina would understand with just a look.”

    Vaal’s face scrunched up into a grimace. “My Ellina would side with anyone with good intentions. It’s hard to tell from you because your eyes are always filled with good intentions. But she’s not here right now. In fact, we’re the only ones in the house.”

    No wonder he wants to keep me here, he thought, he’s worried about her.

    “Don’t worry, I know how to keep myself safe but you have to trust me when I say that if I stay here any longer, I’m not going to survive long.”

    The man looked him up and down with questioning eyes, wondering what possible threat such a scrawny boy could ever be to the invaders, or anyone for that matter.

    “Are they after you?”


    Vaal could tell he wasn’t going to get any father with him so he sighed and went to the kitchen. Jepherias reached for the door but there wasn’t enough time to open it, for the man had only grabbed something and came back. He didn’t seem surprised to see how eager he was to leave but he stretched out his hand and offered some money to him.

    “Your wages. Take ‘m. You were going to get them in the morning anyhow.”

    Vaal wasn’t only his place of shelter in this town, he was also his employer. He had Jepherias working at the pottery shop down the street and despite what little excuse he had, Vaal always overpaid him because unlike the rest of his workers, he knew not only what he was doing but how to do it right and how to take orders. Jepherias had eventually stopped arguing over his weekly wages and this time he didn’t even say thank you as he grabbed the money and pushed out into the street.

    He did wave behind him as he left but whether that motion had been seen or not depended on how focused Vaal’s eyes were in the dark. The house had been dark except for a candle on the table but that was soon blown out as Jepherias made his way to the city wall, leaving anything he may have forgotten behind.

    The city wall in the town, like any other desert town, only rose under war, an alarm, or when the sun fell using underground gears and the town witch. The rest of the time the wall laid well under the sand until called to spring upwards. It was supposed to be completely intact and practically impenetrable…from the outside.

    Whereas the outside was completely smooth with no opportunity for climbing, the inside was ugly with stones jutting from every other foot length all the way up. It was designed to kill anyone who tried to climb down with a rope or at least damage their foot so they would let go and fall to their death. They were all sharp at the end so it was also hard to climb up from the inside, with nothing but a freefall waiting for those at the top trying to get back down.

    So that wasn’t how Jepherias was going to leave. He discovered the first night he was there that any regular method of escape was impossible so for a couple nights, he dug a hole under it and over the gears that only he knew where it was. You see, between the gears and the wall was an opening about three-fourths of a foot tall all the way around except for when there were thick support beams to connect the wall to the gears. The support beams were at least ten feet wide and were only at the eight points of the compass so Jepherias just had to pick a spot in between them, dig, and be on his way.

    The spot he had chosen was dug out on his side and all he had to do was dig out the sand from the other. Since it tried to leak in on it’s own, his job was half done already. He cleared away the extra sand and took the things out of his back one by one so they would fit through. Once he had shoved them under, he took off his cloak and pushed it under and prepared himself to squeeze under.

    He had to maneuver his feet out sideways and straighten his legs. His tensed his muscles so he could fit his knees through and everything went without a hitch until it came to his chest. His arms were spread out so they didn’t squeeze his sides and chest up and they had no problem reaching the other side but his shoulders were getting caught because he had to depend upon his legs to get him out until his arms were free again.

    It was painful, but he wiggled. He praised the lord he was a skinny boy still, otherwise he wouldn’t have made it out. His shoulders got through and then he was left with the last challenge: his head. He put it sideways and it became completely stuck on his ear. The cartilage tissue threatened to tear off his body as he tried to pull himself free but he was lucky and only got a few cuts on each ear as sign of his struggle. It became stuck on the widest part of his head a well but he could struggle more tenaciously because he didn’t care if he lost a little hair; he wanted his ears more than his hair.

    After a few painful moments, Jepherias pulled free from the wall. The skin on his head was sore and angry where it had been scrapped across the stone but he ignored it and packed his knapsack back up. Before he completely finished, he realized it would be better to run away if he had pants on and took off his wrap as quickly as he could. He shoved it on top of the rest of his possessions and slid on a pair of pants he knew were going to stay on without a belt. After that, he picked up and wiped the sand off his cloak and put it on as well, making sure the hood was up.

    He managed to get his knapsack on his back before someone found him.

    “Hey, you there! Stay where you are.”

    It was one of the invaders and he was holding a torch. He was dressed like a guard and though he couldn’t see Jepherias’ face, he was going to find out as he strode up to him with his long and burly legs. Jepherias’ heart quickened in fear at the sight of the insignia on his chest: a beaver with a laurel in it’s mouth and shafts of wheat laying across it’s tail.
    It was an insignia one of his siblings used. They were here for him.

    Without any other thoughts, he ran out into the desert. The invader didn’t try to chase him; instead, he called out to his buddies and ran for his horse. Jepherias would have about five minutes before they were right on top of him, if he was lucky. Luck was all he was asking for at this point.

    When he had first come to the town, he passed by what used to be a forest of trees. The sand was firmer there and the mounds around protected the area from new sand coming in. The forest was dead now, of course, but the trees were still there, their dead wood the only protection Jepherias could hope for when being chased. It wasn’t far from the town and from what he had heard, they used to water the trees to keep them alive but the town hit a drought and couldn’t water them anymore. They died before they could get enough water again.

    He praised nature for preserving such a spot. The trees were dead, yes, but they could still hide him. Some of them were hallow and others were so close together that whoever hid behind them looked like part of their shadow. And thanks to the mounds of sand around, it was like a pit and the only light that came in was from the sun when it was high in the sky. Right now it was as dark as it could get.

    Getting up a mound wasn’t easy. It was at least as tall as the town wall and though you could climb it, if you were in too much of a hurry, you would slip to the bottom before you got halfway up. He could hear the horses behind him and the thundering in his heart went all the way up to his throat. He was going to die if he was caught and he knew it.
    But he took his time and behind him he heard the invaders struggle up the mounds, first with their horses and then ditching them to try on foot. He made it to the top before any of them had figured out a way up.

    He slid down the mound and stopped when he touched the first tree. It was tilted sideways and he stood on it to keep from slipping down farther. Once he had gotten his footing, he jumped off the tree to the firm sand below.

    He picked the first tight cluster of trees he could find and ducked behind, crouching down to hide himself behind the thick trunks at the bottom. He then began to cry.

    There was no way out. Even if they didn’t figure out a way to get up the mounds, which he suspected they were already accomplishing, some would wait outside until he tried to escape so they could find out if he was who they were looking for, which he was. He was just delaying the inevitable and it was until he stopped that he realized it.

    The question now was how long would it take them to find him and would they kill him here or drag him back to his sibling? It was his brother Gren’s insignia and he lived halfway across the continent. If he was to be brought back alive, they would drag his body across the desert while tied to one of their horses and only give him water and a handful of food when it became dark. That was how prisoners were dealt with when the hunter was collecting the bounty.

    He would beg to be killed. This is what he thought as the first invader made it over the mound. He could barely see them through his tears but he held his tongue to keep himself from making a sound. He let his nose run so his sniffles didn’t bring attention. The invader had come in about ten feet away but he hadn’t seen Jepherias yet so he went the other direction by luck.

    Jepherias continued thinking, knowing they were going to find him eventually. From what he remembered about his brother Gren was that he was kind and was only trying to kill him because all their other siblings were and he, being the youngest, was still an obstacle. He wouldn’t want him brought back alive. He would want him to be killed far away where he would never go so he could forget it quicker. If he had him brought in alive, not only would he have to kill him himself, he would also have to dispose of his body. The Gren he knew wouldn’t be able to do it.

    But if they killed him here, they would have to cut off his head to collect and Gren wouldn’t be able to stand the sight of that either. He probably had a person in charge to verify that it was him so they didn’t have to bring his head back. Plus, they had plenty of places to hide him to make his death look like an accident. As long as they missed cutting his bones, his flesh would rot away or solidify to where no one would tell he had been murdered.
    What seemed to hurt the most out of the hole situation, however, was the traitorous feeling coming from his back. In his knapsack were all the letters he had ever received from his siblings and his father. He felt like the letters were leading his pursuers to him all the time but he couldn’t get rid of them. They were a part of his childhood, a part he wasn’t about to throw away. They were the only things keeping him sane.

    Reading them, he would remember the good days when their father was still alive and their relations weren’t the best but they were improving. When the only thing he and his full-blooded brother had to worry about was chores to keep their mother happy enough to cook for them. He would go to school and sprint out the moment the bell rang and if it was mail day, it would seem like he had wings on his feet as he spirited himself home to enjoy an afternoon of reading bliss.

    If that had continued, he and his brother would have continued their life and would be visiting their other siblings around the world at parties that he was never comfortable at. They would have gotten through most of their schooling and their mother would have been taking about moving to a city for further education right about now. Of course, his brother would have already picked up a trade of some sort and wouldn’t want to leave but Jepherias would visit when he wasn’t studying.

    But of course, that didn’t happen. Every time he got to the last letter his father sent, he would be brought back to reality even without reading it. He hadn’t opened the rest of the letters he had gotten that day because the news was such a shock to him. After a few days of mourning, the first murderers came to get him and his brother and the next thing he knew was that they both were running for their lives, feeling the heat of everything inside their house that they hadn’t taken with them burning and charring the stone walls of the house. They had to leave their mother behind too and he didn’t know if she was still alive or not.

    But that didn’t matter anymore. He was about to be killed. More invaders were coming down the mounds and searching for him, ducking and looking around the trees since they found out quickly that they couldn’t cut through the hard wood, no matter how hallow it was.

    There was one right in front of him, about six feet away. The invaders had no night eyes because of their torches and only a couple made it up and down the mound with theirs. If the others had had them, they had dropped them at one point and the shifting sand snuffed them out. The one in front of him was such and that was the only reason he hadn’t spotted Jepherias’ dirty boots.

    But instead of breaking down and crying because of the pressure, he felt a little light-headed and energy seemed to surge through his body like he was…mad. He didn’t get up to fulfill this newfound energy’s desire but inside he was screaming his will to every corner of his body.


    And then his head grew heavy and he became very sleepy just as the invader seemed to find him at last. But Jepherias was too tired to struggle or even care that he had been caught and he closed his eyes to dream.