All the Ronins, Sentinels, and the Dark Warlords are gathered at Mia’s for a campout weekend. Dais revealed how he first came to serve the evil Talpa. Kale then told his story, followed by Sekhmet. Now Anubis must share his story as well.
Kale was becoming impatient. “Well, Anubis? We all spoke. Now it is your turn.”
Anubis was deep in thought. “I know. But where to begin?” He looked across the fire at Oshay. She was tense, but attentive. This was her tale as much as his.
Oshay ran through the woods. Anubis was catching up to her. She stopped and hid behind a tree, waiting for him to run past her. She waited and waited with no sign of him. Her curiosity piqued, Oshay stepped out into the open. Suddenly, Anubis jumped out from the bushes and grabbed her around the waist. He spun her towards him. She grabbed him in return and kissed him hard. The two of them fell to the moss-covered ground, laughing. They just lay there for the longest time, enjoying the beauty of the summer day, comfortable in each other’s arms.
Anubis ran his hands through her long green hair. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”
“Oh, Anubis. You don’t know how much I wish it could be so. But you know they’ll never let us be together.”
“Then let’s leave. Run away. We could start our own family somewhere else.”
“And leave behind everything we know? All our loved ones? I’ve heard how mighty you were against the Zurite invaders. Your exploits have made you famous in the valley and beyond. They say it is guaranteed that you will be a Third War-Leader in only a few years. Your father is so proud of you. Would you give all that up so easily?”
“Your father wants you to marry the son of the Keo Marou. Is that what you want? Do you prefer that slobbering oaf to me? I would do anything for you, Oshay. If you say the word I will leave my family and fame and take you away from here.”
“And hate me in a few years? No. I could never do that to you.”
“Then speak to your father. Ask him about me. Our people have had bad relations for many generations, but perhaps we could convince them to make an alliance marriage between us.”
“Father is too rigid. Every time I start to bring the subject up, he becomes so angry.”
“What about your brother? Your father and he are very close. Perhaps he could speak to him on our behalf.”
“I will have to convince him of us first. He has no love for your people either. But he is much more open-minded than father. And he always talks as if he’d rather have peace. Some of the older warriors only talk of the glory of war.”
The two of them lay there a while longer, not speaking. Their happiness at being together was marred by the fact that they might soon be separated forever.
A voice a little ways away startled them. “Oshay! Oshay! Where are you?”
Oshay got up quickly. “It’s my cousin, Cymkara. She can’t find us together. You have to go.”
“Alright. But I’ll meet you at our secret place tomorrow, same time.”
“I don’t know if I can make it…”
She kissed Anubis passionately. “I’ll be there. And I’ll speak to my brother. Now, hurry. Go!” He fled into the woods as Oshay went the other way to meet up with her cousin.
Uli didn’t understand. “If you really wanted to marry her, why didn’t you just do it?”
Anubis shook his head sadly. “It wasn’t so simple in those days. Wars were fought over people marrying someone their family didn’t like. In our case, it was even worse because our two peoples were already on the brink of war.”
Oshay nodded in agreement. She addressed Uli. “You see, the Kataran and the Eschevon had both lived in the same fertile valley as long anyone could remember. But both groups believed they had the rightful claim to the land. Many other tribes and clans tried to invade us over time, but we managed to fight most of them off. We could never get rid of each other, though. A few believed that our groups had started as one and then split up, but most people refused to believe we could be related. They always argued over who was there first.”
“But that’s stupid. Why didn’t they just share?”
Anubis and Oshay both laughed. “Because they didn’t have your generosity of spirit, Uli. Each group wanted to control the whole valley and keep all others out. They thought it was their right as the original inhabitants—given the right by this divine decree, that prophetic sign. The Eschevon and Kataran fought many battles over the years, but were too evenly matched for either to win. Every few years new fights would break out and then stop after a couple more years.”
Now Ryo was confused about something. He turned to Oshay. “But if your people didn’t like his, how did you two meet?”
Oshay folded her arms indignantly. “He and his friends were spying on me while I was bathing.”
Sekhmet narrowed his eyes at Anubis in mock outrage. “You were ogling my great-niece?”
“Oshay! My friends and I were not spying on you! We had discovered a secret hot spring with pools and started going there often. One day when we arrived, we found that someone was already there. Oshay and her friends were bathing. We hid in the bushes and waited for them to leave, but they stayed and stayed. My friends got tired of waiting and went home. I was angry that someone was taking over our secret place so I remained. After a while Oshay’s friends left, but she lingered.”
Oshay chuckled. “That’s when Anubis jumped out of the woods and demanded I leave at once and never come back. He looked so angry and his face was so red…”
“She laughed at me. She actually laughed at me. Then she got out of the water. I was speechless. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen—then or since.”
Oshay blushed and looked away uncomfortably.
“She walked over to me and said that she and her friends would swim there as often as they liked and if I wanted to come, then I’d have to behave myself. Then she pushed me into the water.”
Everyone at the campfire was smiling, imagining Anubis soaking wet and mad. Everyone was smiling except Oshay. She merely sighed. “We arranged it so that he would bring his friends at times when we were not there. That way there would be no trouble. But Anubis came often by himself, waiting until my friends had gone before he appeared. Soon we were seeing a lot of each other in secret. Our friends did not even know. This went on for over a year before I went to my brother.” She stared into the fire.
Oshay had talked her brother into coming to the hot springs with her to meet Anubis. She hadn’t told him whom he would be meeting—only that it was the man she loved. Ket was level-headed and understanding. He would listen. He had to.
“So little one. Where is this paragon who has stolen your heart?”
“He’ll be here in a few moments, Ket. I need you to promise me you’ll try to be nice to him. Please.”
“Of course. If you love him, I’m sure he is a worthy man. I would be honored to meet him.”
Just then Anubis came through the trees into the little clearing at the spring. Ket turned, and seeing Eschevon tribe colors, quickly drew his sword. “Get back, Oshay! I will handle this Eschevon scum!” Anubis didn’t know what was going on, but drew his own blade for protection.
“Ket, no! You can’t fight him. Please! He’s the one I wanted you to meet.”
“Oshay! Have you lost your mind? He’s Eschevon! Our oldest and deadliest enemies. And this one…I recognize him. He’s one of their most bloodthirsty warriors! It has to be a trick. He must be using you to get to us!” He pushed Oshay behind him.
Anubis was beginning to understand. He looked at Oshay. “Is this your brother? Did you tell him about me?”
Oshay merely nodded.
Anubis slid his sword back into its scabbard. “Since you are Oshay’s brother, I will not fight you.”
“Then you will die, because I will not let you hurt my clan or my sister.”
“I love your sister. I would not hurt her for the world.” Ket charged Anubis with his blade held high. Oshay screamed for him to stop. Anubis did not move, did not flinch. Ket brought his sword down to strike Anubis, but stopped just short of his head. The two stared at each for several minutes, neither budging. Suddenly, Ket sheathed his sword. To Oshay’s astonishment and relief, he started to laugh.
“Either you are very brave, Eschevon. Or very stupid.”
“A little of both I fear.”
Sai stopped him for a minute. “So you just stood there while this crazy guy charged at you with his sword?”
“I honestly don’t know why, but I was sure he would not hurt me. I think he only wanted to test me.”
Rowen commented as well. “Since he didn’t kill you, I guess he believed that you really had feelings for Oshay?”
“He was at least willing to listen. We convinced him we were serious and wanted to marry. I can’t say that he was happy about our relationship, but he was smart. He could think of the peace that might come out of an alliance marriage between the daughter of the Kataran Clan-Chief and the son of the Eschevon First War-Leader. And he wanted Oshay to be happy. He promised us he would go with Oshay to their father and try to talk him into such a proposition. I agreed to talk to my father. Oshay and I decided to meet again the next day to exchange information.”
Oshay hung her head.
“Things did not go well.”
“Father! He’s not some monster. Yes he’s Eschevon, but he’s kind and decent and loving. And he means the world to me. If you would only meet him, get to know him…”
“I would never have believed it! My own daughter a traitor to her people.”
Ket was angry. “Father that is an unworthy thing to say about a loyal daughter of the Kataran. Do you think she is so stupid or naïve that she would fall for pretty words and empty promises? I have met this Anubis. He is an honorable man and I believe he truly loves Oshay. You have always trusted my judgment before. Please trust it now.”
“Ket! Even you turn against me? What magic does this warrior have that he can fool the Clan-Chief’s children? Do you long so badly for peace that you would hand us over to the Eschevon to obtain it?”
“Father! A joining between Oshay and this man would only be good for us all! We could finally have true lasting peace. Not the kind between conqueror and fallen, but between marriage-kin! You know the Eschevon consider marriage ties as strong as those of blood—just as we do. Unlike the Keo you would have Oshay marry into. They would fight with their own children over the time of day if they were drunk enough.”
“Now you question my judgment? The Keo have shown us nothing but respect in all our dealings. Among the groups that have tried to invade this valley, only they have offered trade for a small area of land. Their people are skilled craftsman and armorers. An alliance with the Keo is beneficial to us all.”
“Then marry one of your other daughters to the Keo. Leska would be better suited. She thinks the son of the Keo Marou is a magnificent warrior. She is good-looking enough to appease him and strong enough to match him. They would make a good couple. Then Oshay would be free to marry Anubis.”
“ENOUGH! Both of you get out of my sight before I forget you’re two of my dearest children.”
Oshay had told Anubis she did not want to run away from everything she knew, but perhaps there was no other way. “Father. I love you dearly. But I love him as a woman does when she wants to spend the rest of her life with a man. I will be with him. Even if that means leaving here forever.”
Clan-Chief Arkes stared at her as if he didn’t know her any more. “Guards!” His two house-guards ran into the room. “Confine this woman to her room. Make sure she is comfortable, but she is not to leave nor is she to have guests.” The two, armed men took Oshay away as tears streamed down her face. She was too shocked to resist.
Ket started to leave, but looked back at his father in anger. “Only heartache will come of this, Father. I thought you were a fair, reasonable man. I guess I was wrong.”
Sage shook his head. “So your own father had you locked up.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds. I was in my own room and fed well. He didn’t want me hurt. He was just so angry at what he saw as a betrayal that he acted without thinking. In time he might have changed his mind--or at least let me out.”
Anubis poked the dying fire with a stick. “My father reacted just as badly. He pretty much told me that if I wanted Oshay, to take her as a slave. An honorable marriage was out of the question. He swore if I compromised the safety of our people in such a way, he would cut me down himself. I did not sleep at all that night, but thought of what kind of response Oshay would get from her father. I wondered if we would be forced to leave after all. When morning came I headed for our hot spring to meet her.”
Trace pulled his stick out of the fire--the marshmallows on it were burnt. “So what did you do when she didn’t show up?”
“Oh, she was there by the time I arrived.”
Oshay spoke. “I had kept a little secret from father. I’d recently discovered I had the transforming gift. I could turn my hands into large, fearsome claws. I was going to surprise him at the next Feast of Ancestors, but there would never be another feast for the Kataran.” She glared at Anubis. “I knew Anubis would be waiting for me so I bulked up and slashed through my bedroom wall. I then ran into the woods and hid at our place until he arrived. I knew Ket would not give our secret away. Anubis and I then agreed to run away together. I could not go back to my village, so I was going to wait there for him. He was going to get supplies and horses and come back for me. But he never returned.” She turned on Anubis with fury in her eyes. “Instead, he went to the Kataran village and killed everyone there! Why? Why, Anubis? You never told me why.” Tears welled up, but she refused to cry in front of him. Sekhmet came over to her and put his arms around her.
“Little niece. There are many things you still do not understand. Anubis has started this story and he must finish. You have come so far, but if you ever want to be completely free of the past, you must listen carefully. Go on, Anubis. What happened next?”
Anubis threw the stick down in frustration. He was tired of the guilt Oshay always made him feel, the anger she always carried to torment him with. Her people were not blameless in this tragedy. He continued with the story.
Anubis neared his village, but something was wrong. Fire! He ran as fast as he could. When he got closer he could see such devastation…and death. Bodies littered the dusty pathways between the buildings. He ran to his father’s house only to find everyone inside dead. Father’s body was there. Anubis turned away in anguish. Someone had cut off his head. He could only think that their last words had been in anger. Anubis would never forgive himself for that. Like a crazed man, he searched the village for any survivors. No one was left alive. Who could have done such a thing? All gone…all gone.
The sound of many galloping horses startled him. He drew his sword and with a mad cry headed in that direction. He was wild with anger. He did not care if he was one man against a thousand—he would die to avenge his kin. Then he saw them, riding up the hill. They whooped with the joy of victory, a sound that made his blood boil. Then the two leading the savage warriors turned slightly. He recognized the one from across the field of battle. Arkes! Clan-Chief of the Kataran! The other one held up a pike and let out a cry. His father’s bloody head was speared on it. The warrior was Ket! They rode over the hill and out of site.
That treacherous dog! He had smiled at Anubis and gave him words of friendship. All lies! It was all lies! The Kataran warriors were vile, oath-breaking scum. Anubis would make them pay. By his father’s sword, they would pay!
Oshay jumped up from her place at the fire. “You liar! How dare you say such things to make your own crimes seem justified! You slaughtered my people without provocation!”
Anubis was hot with rage. “I thought you knew me at least well enough to believe I would never attack the Kataran without reason! My people, my family were all butchered by your father and brother leading a war party! I saw them with my own eyes!”
“You lie! They never went anywhere near your village! I returned in time to see you kill my unarmed people and walk away without a care.” Oshay moved towards Anubis in a threatening manner. Sekhmet grabbed her arm.
“Sit down Oshay.”
“Let go of me, Uncle.”
Sekhmet’s voice was like fire and ice. “I SAID SIT DOWN.”
“AND BE STILL.” Stunned, Oshay obeyed him. Humor returned to Sekhmet’s voice for a moment. “If only I could get Dais and Kale to be quiet so easily back home. You are both right in this. The Kataran did not wipe out the Eschevon.” Anubis started to say something but Sekhmet held up a hand. “But Anubis did see the Kataran warriors after they destroyed his village.”
Astarte was curious. “How could both be true?”
“It was Talpa wasn’t it?” Mia guessed. “Somehow he did it.”
Sekhmet nodded. “After so many centuries without a body, Talpa became impatient and a bit mad. He needed one more warrior and had not been able to find one right for the Armor of Cruelty. Then he saw Anubis. He was the one. But Talpa could see that fate would never give Anubis a reason to forsake his soul for power. For the most part with Kale, Dais, and I, Talpa was able to wait for life to destroy us so that he could remake us. He realized Anubis would need an extra push so he sent his demons to destroy the Eschevon disguised as Kataran warriors. And he made sure Anubis saw them. Then he approached Anubis while his blood still burned with rage and his thoughts still swirled with images of revenge.”
Anubis was in shock. “Talpa…said he could give me the power to kill the warriors by myself. I accepted without thinking.” He stared down at his hands, still seeing the blood of so long ago. “The Kataran warriors…were innocent. I murdered them for something they did not do?”
Oshay was still angry. “But then you killed everyone else in the village! Even if you thought the warriors had butchered your people, it wasn’t necessary to take the lives of old men, young girls, children!”
Now it was Sekhmet who was angry. “You are not listening, Oshay! Don’t you understand? For each of us Warlords, the moment we lost our souls to Talpa’s control was the moment we used the armors for evil purposes. If the Kataran warriors had really killed the Eschevon, Talpa would not have been able to take control of Anubis because Anubis would have been punishing murderers. But they were innocent! The instant that Anubis used the armor to kill the warriors, he was lost to Talpa. Don’t you get it? The rest of us willingly took innocent lives—whether from grief or rage or hatred. But Anubis was tricked into taking innocent lives. He thought they were guilty. His reasons didn’t matter in the end, though. As soon as he slew them, Talpa was able to fill him with his evil presence and make him wipe out the rest of the Kataran. It was Talpa who was responsible for the destruction of your people. Not Anubis!”
Oshay finally understood, but it didn’t make the pain any easier to bear. She felt an enormous burden of shame over the way she had treated Anubis recently. She looked at the ground, unable to meet his gaze.
Anubis got up and walked away from the fire without a word. Sekhmet silently cursed himself for a fool. The things he said would make Oshay better understand and more easily move on with her life. But knowing he had murdered innocent people under his own power would be a new weight for Anubis to bear. As if he didn’t carry enough already. Sekhmet made to follow, but sat back down when he saw Jack, Mia, and Ryo go after Anubis.
Anubis stood in the shadows, leaning against a tree. He looked up at the night sky and cursed himself for the monster he was.
Mia walked up behind him. “I can guess what you’re thinking. ‘I’m a monster. I don’t deserve to live.’ We went through this before, Anubis.
(*author’s note—see SW2: Children of Nyx)
You are not a killer. You were a pawn. You did what you thought was right. Never forget it was Talpa who was responsible for those deaths—not you.”
Ryo put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re an honorable man, Anubis. And our friend. Talpa used you and the other Warlords, but you had the strength to break free. You helped us all when we needed it the most. Anubis! You saved our lives! We all trust you completely. We wouldn’t if you weren’t worth that trust.”
Anubis said nothing. After a few minutes Ryo and Mia left.
Jack did not go. “Everyone’s trying to convince you that it wasn’t you’re fault. That Talpa killed those people. But no matter what they say, knowing you, you’ll probably never really accept that. You’re going to always see yourself as a killer. Guess what? You are. And so am I.
(*author’s note—see SW3: Lord of Storms for Jack’s story)
So what are you going to do about it? Wallow in self-pity? Do you remember what you told me when I tried that? Life goes on and we have to go on, too. We don’t have a choice. There’s great evil in this world and we have the power to stop it. We can’t give up, or turn our backs on that. And the most important thing you said was that no matter what, I would never have to face my fears alone because I was among friends. I haven’t forgotten that. Neither should you.” Jack smiled slightly. “Now come back and sit with your friends. Don’t make me hurt you.”
Anubis turned to look at Jack. He could see the spark of anger in his eyes, but also the humor on his face. He had the power of the storm armor under control. Anubis chuckled softly. “I should listen to my own advice more often.” He slapped Jack lightly on the back. The two of them went back to the fire.