Rashali looked across the road at Moon Bend, which she had never left in all her life. She had never traveled to Tigun’s native village on the Tabra to meet his parents, or even to the next village downriver. Zir, the great city, was very far away, four days’ walk or more.
And may she be damned to Araskagan’s darkest pits if she ever chased after a Sazar in order to grovel to him.
“You have to go, Rashali,” a woman said. “He’ll be angry if he thinks we’re ungrateful.”
Hours later, when the sun was sinking low in the sky, she rounded a bend in a narrow gap between two hills and found her path blocked by a red-gold cat the size of a horse. She froze as the animal looked at her through gold eyes and growled softly in its throat.
She fought back a panicked urge to flee. If she tried to run away, the beast would easily chase her down, and she couldn’t climb up the steep, rocky hillsides to escape from it. But if she held still, maybe it would lose interest in her.
The huge cat growled again, then let out a loud roar.
“Sir Baril!” Professor Rossony called out as he caught up with the Lord Regent just outside the doors of the Lectorium.
The white-haired, aristocratic-looking Regent stepped aside so that they wouldn’t block the doorway. “Your application is still under consideration, Rossony,” he said with an air of impatience, as though they had had this conversation too many times already. “You do understand that this is a decision which cannot be reached in haste.”
“Of course, Sir Baril. But —”
“Be assured, Professor Rossony, we will inform you of our decision the moment we make it. Good day.”
Sarya counted the strokes, wincing with each sharp smack of the leather thongs on her back. This whipping was harder than the other one had been, just within the bounds of what was permitted. After the fifth lash, she started to stand up, then a sixth stroke came down hard across her back. Pain ripped from her shoulder to her waist, and a warm wetness began spreading from where the lash had struck her.
She stumbled to her feet and spun to face Master Uldo. “Damn you, that was six! And you drew blood!”
Mr. Vendine took a bandana out of one of his duster pockets, folded it and covered her hand with it, then dropped a few of the black lumps into her palm.
Icy pain shot up through her arm, seizing her heart and her lungs in freezing agony. Dark terror wrapped around her mind, cutting off sight, hearing, and even thought. Cold ran through her veins, spreading through her arms, her back and legs, her belly and loins. It was like the night terrors, only a hundred times – a thousand times – worse.