Chapter 26, Part 1-2

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Mara wanted to know what could be done with a Select who'd turned her allegiance to the dark side. She felt in her heart that none of them owed Lilith any protection any longer, but the cost of an Oathtaker being wrong in such an assessment—of wrongfully taking the life of one of the Select, should it come to that—was death.

She was also curious about the artifacts, the crown, the sword, and the scepter. What was she to do with them until the girls came of age? Did they belong to both of the girls, or to only one? And if to only one, which? Should she take possession of them for safekeeping?

Gradually, the countryside changed. Where things had been quiet in the city's outskirts, the noises grew in volume. Along with them came the varied smells of a lively city and the shuffle of people and goods.

As the sky showed signs that dusk would soon approach, the travelers made their way to the innermost part of the city.

In their efforts to ensure that they could respond to danger quickly, Mara and Dixon rode on either side of Nina and Adele, each of whom carried one of the infants. Because Dixon wanted to keep his presence concealed, he kept the hood of his cloak up to hide his face.

Crowds sashayed this way and that, as daytime workers made their way home and nighttime laborers made their way to work. The city bustled with sounds: callers cried out the news, horses whinnied their dissent to orders from on high, chains rattled as they held dogs at bay, grinding carriages clickety-clacked through the dusty roads, hawkers plied their wares, and children cried for treats—or perhaps because they'd consumed too many.

The buildings on either side grew up, up, up. Mara's mouth dropped open. "I've never seen anything like this!" she cried. "And I thought Polesk was large."

Riding on, she shielded the light of the setting sun from her eyes with a hand to her forehead. The last rays of sunshine shone from an angle that caused sanctuary, suddenly coming into view, to glisten. Slowly, she drew her hand down.

"It's amazing!" she gasped.

Sanctuary's steeple, crowned with a globe, stood in stark contrast to its surroundings. While it signified longevity, continuation, consistency and perseverance, its immediate environs were a study in hustle, change, perhaps even mutiny, to things of old, whether they be systems, places, people, or things.

"Yes, I can feel it. There are answers here. Answers I want," she said.

Dixon nodded. "To the inn then?"

"To the inn," she responded resolutely.

Since the streets had narrowed, the travelers now rode two by two, with Mara and Nina in the lead. They made their way through the throng of people and traffic to a side street Dixon pointed out, then turned in.

News criers bracketed both ends of the street. They shouted out the headlines and accosted passersby to purchase their fliers. Dixon bought one, then pressed onward, keeping a tight grip on Adele's reins so that nothing could come between them.

When Mara turned back for further directions, Dixon pointed out a small weathered building at the end of the block. Unlike others nearby, it stood a mere two stories high, unattached to the buildings immediately to its sides. Aged, but well maintained, it sat back from the roadway. A stable stood behind it. Horses and carriages madly made their way in and out from the premises.

A young groomsman, just a boy really, small and string bean thin, ran out to assist the inn's newest arrivals. A middle-aged man followed him, shouting out orders more quickly than the boy could follow them. The man pointed and bullied, prodded and cajoled the youth to anticipate and to meet the every need of the inn's guests.

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