4.2 Touched By Sorrow

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The deepest dungeon was a long journey, even traversed at fast pace. Kessa had time to ponder the hopeful glances aimed her way. It seemed the warriors trusted her on the matter of the prisoner, more than they trusted Alex.

And why not? Kessa was just an ummin; not a powerful messiah. They felt sure that a former slave would not divulge any hint of the Alashani underground to the mind reader in the pit. They trusted her to comfort the rekveh using words they could understand, instead of a sinister foreign tongue. And if she dared to say or do anything they didn't like, they could use their powers to bully her.

Jinishta led Kessa through a secret tunnel into the prison, avoiding the main entrance gate. She never showed Alex this way. No doubt she wanted him to remain ignorant of the tunnel, and in any case, if Alex wanted to use this entrance, he would have to crawl the length of several neighborhoods. The tunnel was not built for his size. 

The Premier Yeresunsa was not ostentatious or proud, but that made her easy to underestimate. She must be aware that Yeresunsa warriors could easily stream through this secret tunnel, straight to the dungeon labyrinth. They'd be ready to bar Alex and any nussians who tried to force their way in through the main gate.

And Kessa wondered if anyone else noticed how Jinishta had been inducting foreign Yeresunsa into her local command structure. Jinishta was good at earning loyalty. She got to know warriors and their families. She joked with them.

Alex, in contrast, spent all of his free time with Margo rather than with fellow warriors. He attended parties held in his honor, or he wrestled nussians from the slums. He had not even bothered to learn the names of most of the warriors. Jinishta treated Alex with fondness, as her overgrown young cousin ... but that might change. 

If it did, Kessa had no doubts about who wielded true authority in Hufti. The messiah label hardly mattered. All that mattered was what Jinishta believed. The warriors would obey her, and follow her lead. They would not trust Alex.

A few warriors sat near the immense gear-and-pulley gate, all armed with battle spears. When they saw Jinishta with Kessa, they stood.

"Thank goodness," one warrior said.

Several others used their powers to churn the massive gears, cranking the gate open.

"The rekveh claims there is another prisoner," a gangly old warrior reported to Jinishta. "A woman. With Yeresunsa powers."

Jinishta gave that one a searching look. She seemed about to ask a question, but another warrior interrupted, raising his voice to be heard. "We had to tie up the rekveh. We cocooned it in cloth."

"Why?" Jinishta demanded.

"It was trying to inflict harm upon itself," the warrior replied.

"We should just smother it," another warrior suggested.

Jinishta shot that one a glare. "Remember our promise to Alex," she said. "We keep the rekveh alive."

"That promise is likely to get us killed," the hotheaded warrior retorted. "What are we keeping it alive for?" He gestured towards the utter blackness of the labyrinthian cave beyond the gate's teeth. "It has no future. We can't bring it among people." He stared a challenge at Jinishta. "Why are we keeping it alive?"

"Isn't it cruel, to force it to keep living?" another warrior said.

"Surely you can reason with Alex," another suggested.

Kessa kept her beak shut, aware of her lack of powers. Jinishta could defend Thomas far better than she could.

Jinishta held out her hand, and a fiery torch hurtled into her grasp. Firelight danced in her luminous eyes. The glow softened her white skin and hair. She used her powers to grab another torch, and handed it to Kessa.

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