Phayara Khado. Monstrous Vyrnna licked up between its wall; cathedrals built of joy which rose and fell in the space of a breath. Runners frolicked through them, throwing themselves against each other, not caring who or what was there to catch them.

Phado had returned!

Pilgrims streamed into the city from all sides.  Soldiers, wanderers, rogues; supplicants who waited for audience with their goddess outside her temple; others who bribed priests at the door. Worship filled the city. The plants of Phyrnos grew towards the temple as towards the suns of Phyrnos; Uquelycra skittered outside its walls, Gilahawks circled its spires.  The streets were packed so tightly their caravan could only travel by inches.  They were locked in on all sides by pressing heat, pressing flesh.  Phyrnosians shook their fists and danced over the top of the lifters, singing and yelling.  A pack of older hatchlets threw shit at the sides of lifters.  Drivers screamed.

“Nervous?” Vince said.

Howl shrugged.

“They’re clever enough!” Vince said. “You didn’t see the attack on Maiden coming, did you?”

The man with the metal eye sighed. “No. As Jacques reminded me. Don’t bury me yet, brother.”

“Hah, you’re perfectly capable of doing that yourself.”

“Have ye grown so tired of life, me scug?  I’ll bowel ye, make sauages owt ‘o thy blood an vinegar!”

"They're not geckos," Vince said, "is all I'm saying."

Eve became agitated, sending a burnt scent up around them.  “Rein her in, there, love,” Howl said to Gill, grabbing the Evok’s halter.  "Alloah, what a sight.” He jerked his chin in the direction of a lifter filled with bodies.  “Easy, old girl.”  

Evoks, Phyrnosians and humans all lay tossed together in the lifter, a salad of soft, stinking flesh.

“Offerings! Offerings to Phado, here!” the attendant said. He was small, shifty. He had nervous eyes and weak, spongy claws.

“Clap eyes on that, an’ tell me that ain’t a gecko!” Howl said, elbowing the Knife.

Snopes tightened. “He's the sign,” he said. “This is where we turn. Hitch up quickly.” And indeed, with the sight of so much death as a signpost, the caravan lifters ahead that were filled with medical slaves groaned to the left, heading into the alley.

“Here we go."

“Keep all eyes lifting,” the captain said, “and thy wits about ye, boys.  We’ve bad weather ahead.”

The entrance to the slave market was attended by a handful of distracted guards. The captain and his men were quickly waved through the dirty curtain.  It was a rite of passage for young Phyrnosian monks to wander and observe. Their disguises rendered them all but invisible.

The acrid stink of illness, urine and unwashed skin hit them in nauseating waves.  Vince took Gill’s arm, escorting her past the clumps of thin, dirty people, watching them pass with dull expressions. Children huddled together; men stood in unmoving clumps, as if they were already dead, broken, swollen in the sun. One woman wore a torn dress. Her eyes flashed on them. Gill’s head began to turn.

“Don’t look,” Vince murmured. “Remember why we’re here...”

The small, dirty tent opened into another and then another.  They chanted a Phodiine prayer.

“Black and brilliant,

black and brilliant

a thousand years...”

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