Chapter 89

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As Sunzar slowly sauntered over to his corner, Leithan realized they were now alone in the basement.

He supposed the girls, in their eagerness to leave, had probably left a bunch of stuff behind. Leithan couldn't blame them. It must've felt surreal to finally be let out, to be able to go and feel the wind on their skin.

Sunzar sat beside him in careful silence, resting her back against the cold stone wall. Her thick auburn locks clashed with the gray behind her. She wore a simple green dress that ended above her knees. Sunzar crossed her freckled legs, and joined her hands atop her lap.

The large basement was eerily quiet, like a tornado had swept across it and was now gone, leaving only the two of them behind, untouched.

"In Cheztrian," Sunzar said without looking at him, "very few women have the privilege of going to the university. I happen to be one of those lucky few." She pressed her lips together, glanced briefly at Leithan, then away again.

"When I got in, I decided I wouldn't waste that chance. I studied history, religion, and politics. I tried starting a movement to give women the right to vote, and it didn't garner that much attention. People laughed at me. Still, the dean of Cheztrian University advised me to stop my efforts, otherwise I'd surely get expelled. Do you know why I'm here, Leithan?"

She clearly didn't need an answer to continue her tale, so he didn't give her one.

It was actually all right, listening to her. A part of him was pulled distractedly away from the constant, dreadful suffering.

"I'm here because I've studied Veyaism, as well as Rengleam culture and anthropology. And I found it all quite interesting. Women have the same rights and status as men. Your goddess – no, that's not right, Veya's not a goddess. My teacher referred to her as such, but I did my own research and realized his mistake," Sunzar said.

Leithan's gaze inched toward her face. He was properly intrigued now. The comedown was still there, like a hound from Seelai's Hell, clawing and biting at him from within. But he fought it so he could keep listening to her.

She sighed briskly, and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Anyway. Your spiritual leader, the one who started the movement, was a strong woman. One without a husband too. I've always thought that was fascinating, and wonderful. I mean, the Cieltz revere the blessed mother. A woman, too, although it's very different, sadly."

Sunzar snorted, and smiled wryly. "Do you know her story?"

Leithan shook his head, though he did know about it, a little. Still, he wanted to hear it from her.

"Well, it was more than a thousand years ago, but as the story goes, she got pregnant outside of marriage, and to punish her – as was their right – her village burned her on the stake. She screamed for mercy, claiming she was pure and her pregnancy was a gift from the gods. They burned her regardless. I'm giving you a . . . very abridged version," Sunzar admitted.

"My point is, it's a rather depressing story, isn't it? As opposed to your strong, beautiful, amazing Veya, she's the image of our religion; that poor teenage girl. A martyr. She became the symbol of purity and the model for women to follow. Even though they burned her on the stake to make an example. No wonder we have issues with the place of women in society." Sunzar rolled her eyes, and sighed.

Leithan had known, vaguely, that the Cieltz spirituality was strange. He was reminded just how much that was true, now.

"I came to New Rimar because I needed a break from Cheztrian and the university. I wanted to breathe some fresh, new air and also work on my paper on women's rights. I thought I'd find inspiration here."

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