The Interceder

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Once in Lhasa, Hazen was starving and stopped at the market while Renny went ahead to the airport. He couldn't help but remember being here with the others. When they'd first arrived, they had to wait for their ride to Gyantse, so they'd killed time by touring the holy sites of Lhasa. Hazen had pointed out a modern fire extinguisher on the side of a half-ruined temple, and Oryan said, "That's a little too on the nose, don't you think?" This had made them all laugh, but it was also sobering as they explored the ancient city and its splashes of the West.

The Lhasa market looked like Hazen remembered too. The shops were tightly packed. Tourists strolled and shopped, pointing and talking in excited voices. Few English-speakers were here, and Hazen realized how much he'd adapted to the constant sound of unknown language. Wafts of cooked meat made his stomach growl.

Ooh, thought Hazen. I miss fresh meat.

At a food stand, he ordered by pointing to the menu without shame. When he had his tray of food in hand, he turned into the common area of the market's dining tables. Hazen found a seat at an empty table, and he shrugged off his backpack to place between his feet. Dressed like a tourist, he pulled his hood further down his shaved head to avoid hawkers. After a satisfying sniff of his food, he dug into his plate of steaming bean noodles, dumplings, and stuffed sausage of undefinable meaty origin. The table next to him was occupied by tourists chatting about whatever they'd found interesting in the museum or the market. Hazen kept to his food and tried to ease back into relative civilization.

As he took a bite, someone set a bowl across from him. Hazen looked up from under his hood and saw a westerner dressed in a dark coat. The man looked like any number of businessmen he'd seen. There was nothing particularly interesting about him. He smiled at Hazen, his gray eyes studying Hazen's face.

"Mind if I join you?" He sounded American.

Hazen motioned with his utensil that the man was free to sit.

The man sat and glanced at his bowl of porridge with an odd look. He faced Hazen and again smiled. "I'm Troy Kandoya. Sorry if I'm bothering you – you looked deep in thought. But I've been stuck on a bus with locals for an hour and it'd be nice to speak English again."

Hazen managed to return the man's smile. "No, it's fine. I'm Hazen Stephenson. Nice to meet you." He wiped sauce off his hand and shook Troy's hand. He scowled in thought. "Kandoya... I know that name."

Troy shrugged but had a slight grin. "So what brings you to these parts?" His eyes lifted to Hazen's shaved head under his hood. "Pilgrimage?"

"Not exactly."

Why do I know that name? thought Hazen. Kandoya... I know that name.

"I was with a group," he said carefully. "We were on a soul-searching journey, I guess you'd call it." He took a bite of food and hoped he wouldn't have to explain more.

"Hmm." Troy hadn't touched his food. "On your own now?"

"No, my partner...girlfriend went to the airport already. We're going home, first to L.A., then Milwaukee for a while."

"Wisconsin?" Troy grinned. He was the chatty sort. "I'm originally from the Midwest myself. Small world."

Hazen saw no point in responding and shoveled more noodles into his mouth.

"Was it just the two of you traveling together?"

Hazen stopped mid bite and shook his head. "No, we came with friends. One of them was killed."

Troy watched Hazen's next several bites. His voice changed, sounding more somber now. "I'm sorry about your friend. These are strange times we live in. The end times, some say. Though I'd say it's only an end time. Ages come and go. Dynasties rise and fall." He lifted his hands to indicate their surroundings. "At several points in our history, we've feared the end. I imagine that will continue to happen for many futures."

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