Out of respect for the long-since-passed Rin, Maetron bowed her head. Eyes closed, she drifted slowly over to the edge of the porch and took a seat next to Judace. The little boy?s eyes were wide; his mother could see inside them: his articulate brain was rerunning, in terrifying detail, Rin?s murder scene. Maetron rested her arm across her son?s shoulders. ?Come, come,? she said with cheer, ?do not let it bother you. As you know, if a child refuses to give concession he-or-she is opening themselves up to the possibility of severe injury. Deaths are not uncommon in Evenings. Tempers run high: pride is an addictive stimulant.?
At last, and after some massaging rubs from his mother, the boy smiled. ?I know,? he said. ?But it?s. . . . well, it seems very unnecessary. At least what that boy Gont did at least. Was there was no punishment for his actions? The Evening just went on??
It was now Maetron who wore a grave face. To the sky went her eyes. ?For many years I pondered on it. You see, the staff that broke Rin?s neck broke a great many more things. The Idol in me, the woman who once told stories of the past, told legends of wondrous Dominion artifacts, was sometimes saddened by the fact that the severed ritual band Gont used to murder Rin was never recovered. Because it changed the destiny of two clans forever.?
Judace could not have appeared more intrigued. ?Will you tell me how? I?ve never heard this story. . . in fact, Porta is only mentioned several times within your tomes.?
?That is because,? replied the boy?s mother knowingly, ?it was but a fleet, although excellent, instance of what Dominion are capable of accomplishing when our minds reject the old, primal ways. Silly words from a historian, I know, but historians preach to solidify the future?s foundation: as much as our race detests the Brides and their craving for expansion; their ravenous technological ascension, we would have been wise to learn from them instead of tossing them aside for generations: it is of my belief that the war we fought, and the war we lost, was their revenge for the concentrated hatred that mixed and toiled in their fragile little hearts for eons. Before they were smarter than us, they were nothings; they were peons, weak and frail and in possession of emotions that confused and angered us.
?But Porta was the birthplace of several grand inventions, inventions forged from Dominion hands, including the steam heater, that which keeps even Remeer warm on colder nights.?
With a somber face, Judace informed, ?Ours does not work anymore.?
Sharply did his Maetron grin. ?I know. But there is one installed in the main column. I had an apprentice of the original inventor install it personally. The ones used in this age are far more advanced, but the concept and design has not changed drastically.?
It was a time before either spoke. Easily caught in the winds of inspiration, Judace dreamt of walking upon the streets of the grand City of Porta; played out little scenarios that saw him witness the construction of these aforementioned inventions. He would have loved to have been there. Yet, delightful as these fabricated experiences were, he hungered for the conclusion of his mother?s tale.
And clairvoyant as always, Maetron continued her piece the instant her son glanced over to speak:
?The crowd grumbled: no one likes death at an Evening. Yet, there are banners to consider, and if some of the Uegodora believed that Gont was justified, it became the duty of all Uegodora to unify under that belief. It was strange, for Rin was a member of their clan, and here they were, getting the filthy looks of outsiders for an in-house death. This was because Melia revealed her affections, and thusly. . the dead child, Rin, was Uegodora no more: he was Exa; adopted in death.
?Seated just behind the pedestal upon which the Evening Master stands when the fights engage, the very Evening Master who was then trying desperately to calm Melia with emphatic hand gestures and soothing words, were the three clan leaders: Torrea of Porta, Exa; Messeth, Jint; Venzis, Uegodora. Venzis, who was a very tall, regal and beautiful woman with extremely long and straight hair, was burning a fierce gaze into Torrea, who was sitting a chair over. Messeth, seated between them, dressed in that hoighty Jint way of fabricated majesty, was visibly nerved, as she?d clearly sensed the grown tension. Torrea?s head was down, her eyes were closed and partly veiled by short, choppy bangs of white, mouth calm, her right hand resting upon the waxy onyx pommel of her hip-sheathed rezormora.?
?A real rezormora?? cried Judace excitedly, his eyes bursting with anticipation.
His mother nodded. ?Indeed,? she replied with some astonishment of her own. ?It was the first authentic Reika weapon I?d ever seen; I?ve seen only one more since then. As you well know,? and she grinned, ?Nazareth?s is but a reproduction; functional and deadly, but it is not made from the same fantastic steel, and was certainly not forged by a master smith. But I?m off-topic again.
?I saw, from where I stood amongst the crowd, Messeth stand and saunter towards the enclave of Jint that had, wisely, chosen a stance of neutrality in all the madness: awkwardly they looked on as the Uegodora and Exa exchanged threats and insults. Next, Venzis stood and approached the calm, stoic Torrea. I saw her lean down and whisper in Torrea?s ear, but Torrea, of course, did not react at all; it did not appear as though she were even listening. Venzis slipped away after speaking her piece; two sisters under her colors rushed up and escorted her off the Evening grounds.
?I finally saw Melia rise. She was done with the shouting, with the shaking, with the crying??she chose the death of it all, for it?s what she understood best of all. I would come to learn this in time. Gont hadn?t moved. Like an imbecile he stood, shirtless, both his head and face boulder-like. From the chaos in the crowd, I was able to discern his relatives: they were trying to make their way through the fray to reach him. They probably understood the sensation bursting from the crowd and knew we Exa would brand that boy a senseless brute; neither concepts were incorrect.
?Melia sprinted over to Torrea, the only seated patron now, all alone and private as always; apart from all the hustle of the world. She was not lethargic, but rather intolerant of sensationalism and wasted energy. So one could conclude, as I had at the time, that she found the death of Rin inconsequential, and was thusly annoyed by the proceedings yield. I cannot say whether or not Torrea?s daughter found her mother?s nonchalance offensive, since it was of course her precious Rin who had perished, but what I do know is that young Melia began to beg her mother.?
?For what?? Judace asked.
?I could not tell you in earnest, for I could not hear. But what I saw was this: Melia was screaming, as the language of her body told: hunched over, arms waving, jaw nearly unhinged to allow the passage of titanic words of anger. Torrea did not move; did not answer. But Melia continued to holler and gesture. What happened next perplexes me as much now as it did then, for even ages after this event Melia remains silent over the exchange. . . the little girl turned and found me??me??-just another appalled onlooker in a sea of gold hair and shouting. She pointed at me and her lips moved; our eyes were connected; I felt exposed and uncomfortable. Whatever words she chose struck her mother, for Torrea?s eyes opened at last; they too locked onto mine. Melia flipped around; I could discern her expression no longer. Once more she dipped and pleaded, and Torrea engaged her now, for I saw her placid mouth move within that stern face. She uttered a passage and her daughter nodded. Torrea?s eyes then closed and she removed her hand from the hilt of her rezormora; calm again, closed again. Without any pause, little Melia wrapped her fragile white hands around the lengthy handle of that relic weapon and tore it out of the sheath latched to her mother?s belt.?
?Brave!? Judace hollered anxiously, his face a well-wedded union of fear and astonishment. ?To simply steal it the moment her mother let go. . .?
?Aye. But it was no theft, child: as I said, I could not hear the words of their exchange, but I know for a fact that some deal had been struck, for Torrea moved not a muscle, opened not an eye as her fabulous blade was taken into her child?s hands. Rather, she blessed her daughter with it, payment, I can only assume, for indenturement to a contract unknown. Unknown to all but they, of course.?
Breaks in the lofty sheets of heavy cloud above Remeer and the valley of sand and dead trees gave superb definition to the organic shadows that scudded across the desert floor. Judace looked up at an approaching bar of crisp, sharp sunlight that had cut through the deep shades. When the warmth bled over him and the light illuminated his face, the little boy closed his eyes. He asked sadly, ?She went and killed that boy, didn?t she, mother? Gont? Did she kill him for what he did to Rin??
She too had sealed her eyes. She nodded. ?Aye. When she ran towards the mighty oaf, he tried to flee: were they engaged even in simple hand-to-hand combat she would have easily bested the clumsy Gont. But with a craving for blood on her tongue and a most excellent weapon in her grasp, every onlooker knew that the mighty Uegodora boy was about to be cast into the void. There was a great, appalled silence shared by all in the crowd as the premonition of death was understood universally among us. Gont sprinted like a beast from a huntress. The impossibly nimble Melia caught up to him easily and caned the large boy at the shin with the broad, unsharpened side of Torrea?s rezormora. Gont fell, rolled onto his back, raised his hands and screamed for mercy. Melia, deaf to his pleas of course, stood over him, raised the blade over her head???
Judace threw his arms around Maetron?s hip and buried his head into the giving cloth of her glamorous white cloak. ?Mother,? he wept, his little voice muffled.
The woman kissed his curls. ?Forgive me, Judace. I know you detest the world?s violent things: there?s no need to get into every detail. What matters is that the blow she delivered was fatal; was an act of clean, though perhaps questionable, vengeance. I can agree that Gont was a violent fool who deserved punishment, but Melia. . . Melia and Torrea wagered the fate of an entire city on this cavalier instance of justice. It was selfish. Rin deserved better than that.?
?How do you mean? You didn?t agree that Gont should?ve been killed for the murder of Rin??
?I did not, child. The sisters and governing clansmen of the Uegodora set that match up to put the strength of their prize on display. Rin was a nothing to them; an embarrassment. There are those that believe that they wished the death of Rin; I did not delve into such heinous claims of conspiracy, but I do believe his life was inconsequential. Gont did not kill Rin, the clan as a whole did. Gont was but a child high on the emotions of battle; his strength was out of Rin?s league: the hit he delivered may not have killed any of the other boys in the Evening: that is my point.?
Judace, now calm, began to chew on his bottom lip contemplatively. ?So,? he asked in a voice melodic with inquiry. ??how does it all end? What became of the clans; what became of Porta??
?Almost every resident of the city, outside the Exa, demanded Melia be taken to the pole. Many agreed that Gont?s actions were outrageous, but deaths happen in Evenings. . this is simply a fact, and one a combatant must accept if they choose to get up and continue to engage in a losing battle. I, along with every sister and clansman, stayed within the walls of the clan house for the remainder of the week. We needed solutions, for we could not wage a war against the Uegodora, what members of the Jint were combat-enthused (a small number, but numbers that needed considering) and the general guard of Porta. Despite the accepted knowledge that the three clans held massive influence over the city and its policies, Porta still had a polished little panel of ministers and jurors that enjoyed the festivities of governing without any of the actual powers or stresses of it: the actual ruling was left to the clans. So when I say the city ?demanded? Torrea?s daughter, I mean of course that the Uegodora demanded her. Thusly the Jint, who were weak and easily influenced, demanded it. With the majority rule, the panel of ministers of Porta?s court ratified the sentence. It was a waiting game now. Try as I might, I could not offer Torrea any caveat to side-step the ruling. The option of fighting our way out of Porta to find claims elsewhere was evaluated, but very few would have survived the likely pursuit to follow: this plan was abandoned.
?And so I sat in my room for a week in deep, filthy depression. I liked Melia, just as I liked Torrea, despite the fact that she was a woman with whom I rarely spoke. In fact, it was her subordinates that asked for my advice, not her. . nothing about the situation seemed to bother her in the least, despite the glaring issue with which she was presented: sacrifice her daughter, or sacrifice her clan? She was stoic as always, locked in her chambers with her tomes and her thoughts. It was not until the sixth day of our self-imprisonment that I saw her, and what a shock indeed: Torrea of Porta came to my chambers and asked if I might allow her to speak for a moment. I was elated, intrigued and terrified all at once.
?I remember everything about not only this moment, but the day as a whole. Selfish as it might seem, I was actually writing an account of what I saw at the Evening??even we teachers take stabs at chronicling history from time-to-time: I titled it, The Last Evening; a pious title my younger self adored, but we as a people were outgrowing ritual during that age. The Brides? borders were expanding, and with them came technological marvels, riotous satires and strange art; cultures of all kinds that were blending in with our own. Because Brides are. . . loosely moraled, to say the least, in all their endeavors, I predicted that it was their sexual immorality that would bleed into our veins first. This prediction was not incorrect.
?Assessments aside, Torrea came to my chambers. She sat in front of my desk, leaned into her chair as if she would nap and closed her eyes. She spoke with incredible knowledge. . . she also stabbed at me with several unusual accusations.?
?What kinds of things did you and she talk about? Of what did she accuse you??
?Oh, another time,? Maetron said with amusement. ?The things she spoke of initially are between she and I only??the point of her visit was revealed later in the conversation. Her proclamation was this: Torrea of Porta was going to offer herself, the choleric master of the raucous Exa clan, as a substitute for her daughter. She was going to choose the pole; she was choosing to die for the one thing in the world for which she cared. I am embarrassed to mention the astonished look on my face after she told me this, because at heart I was not surprised in the least. Before she took her leave, Torrea opened her eyes, and with those brutal little red daggers fiercely cutting into me, she requested that I stay at Melia?s side until she turned twenty. I agreed, and Torrea departed. She then exited the clan house alone, marched to the grand hall in the city?s center and issued her demand. Many of the Exa thought the plan was foolhardy, for they figured the clans, as well as the city officials, would simply take Torrea to the pole, then come for her daughter. But I knew her sacrifice would succeed??try as they might to seem cool and confident, there wasn?t a Dominion in Porta that didn?t fear the wrath of Torrea??whether in life or in death. Thusly, the Uegodora, as I figured they would be, were delighted to accept her body as tribute. When news came of the panel?s amended sentence, we all left the clan house and made our way to the cobblestone square. Torrea?s hands were bound; the fat, ugly ministers shouted their victory; Venzis sat behind them, grinning. I was repulsed.
?The ceremony held in 'reverence' of Torrea?s life and death was unheard of: it was truly barbaric. Executions are rarely things to be celebrated, as history often sees the worst villains of our culture killed in battle, thusly those taken in for sentences of death are often enemies of clans and are guilty of very little. Torrea was a woman that deserved a valiant and respectable death, but was instead tied to the bedamned pole and left in the intolerable sun until her body withered. However, I again was the fool. . . Torrea died on her own terms; she designed it; she embraced it. Her daughter would be free. I can?t say for certain whether or not she cared deeply for the Exa, which might sound silly when one considers the fact that she was the founder, but I say this because I never found Torrea to be the kind of woman in possession of the tolerances needed to navigate the bureaucratic hells of clanship. Being a leader requires much patience, add in the fact that the territory upon which she founded the Exa was already under the jurisdiction of the Uegodora and I?d say that the scant bloodshed and battles on Porta?s street were ultimately evidences of her suave guidance: Torrea of Porta may have been a secret bureaucratic dynamo all along.
?I am not sure how many weeks Torrea survived on the pole. They say that the longest a Dominion woman ever lasted was eighteen weeks, which is a marvel! Have you not read Boscenia Hung, I must recommend it this instant, it is an engaging account.?
Judace nodded excitedly, despite the fact that he had indeed read it.
?But for all I know, Torrea may have lasted longer. As I have mentioned innumerable times throughout this tale, she hardly emoted in life. The instant she was tied and dangled on the outskirts of Porta, where dozens of other skeletons hung from their dooming poles, Torrea closed her eyes. Melia visited her often. I accompanied for as long as my stomach allowed, which was a little over four weeks. I tried to engage the little girl, but she had recessed: seeing Rin killed; facing the fact that her mother hung for her. . . heartbreaks such as these cannot be assumed to be understood by any other than the sufferer. So I ceased my bothersome sermons and focused on clan affairs. Torrea?s second, a woman named Gesla, who was as talkative as Torrea was silent, assumed the role of Clan Master. Gesla was a skilled combatant, and had been fiercely loyal to Torrea, but many of the sisters of Exa knew the clan?s end was drawing near because Gesla was neither calm nor tactful. Much pressure was put on all of our affairs; restrictions, all of that. The Exa had proved themselves the radicals they?d been assumed to be in the past, and were thusly punished. Had it not been for the promise I made to Torrea, I would have left them, I am ashamed to admit.?
?So you did stay?? asked Judace. ?All the way up to Melia?s twentieth birthday? Did much happen in Porta??
?Certainly,? replied the boy?s mother, nodding. ?To summarize quickly, the Exa disbanded less-than a year after Torrea?s sentence. Gesla got caught-up in a heated exchange with several Uegodora during the Union Sitting, which was the rare counsel setting that was created in Porta due to the unusual presence of three clans. In anger, she slew three Uegodora before finally catching a blade herself; I heard it was Venzis that delivered the deathblow. Five weeks later there was an attempt on Melia?s life. . . four women in deep hoods and black robes snuck into the clan house with the intent to kill. The sisters of Exa fought them off, but one had indeed made it into Melia?s chambers while she slept. Thankfully the assassin was killed by a spry guardswoman that watched-over Melia always: the attacker was identified as a loose relative to Gont. This meant that she was Uegodora, but the clan, of course, absolved themselves of responsibility, citing the attack as personally motivated by a splinter group that still held contempt for Melia.
?And so the laborious turning of the great wheel of dry ceremony that constricted Porta continued; continued for five more years. The Uegodora were the only clan left in Porta when Melia came of age. A fine woman she became. . so strong and beautiful. The very same way I discovered little Rin?s handsomeness when he confidently battled that heinous oaf, I discovered Melia?s resemblance to Torrea when she grew tall enough to carry that rezormora around without it seeming a burdenous absurdity; she?d also acquired her mother?s dry, sensible, and sometimes wicked, countenance. The years Melia spent under my supervision were spent mostly in training. I tried to stress the need for education, but she resisted, as I knew she would. She became rapt with the Reika sect, for the tomes that I had on them enlightened her to the possibilities of ascension. . . of true, unfathomable power. Although no Reika ever achieved the kind of power Forez and Bith possessed, those two women, who died before the age of the Reika truly even began, showed just what a Dominion is capable of with discipline and a generous portion of raw talent. Throughout the course of those five years, I learned that Melia possessed both qualities. She became something truly rare. And truly terrifying.?