13. Soraya

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"Your majesty," Ghazal asked with concern. "You said there was an urgent matter to discuss?"

Soraya nodded solemnly. The mobedin sat in a semi-circle before her, each of the priests wearing varying expressions of uncertainty and fear. Tall, sandstone columns carved with images of dancing yakshi surrounded them, the smiling dancers' faces incongruous with the graying scowls of the gathered priests. She had not told them what the meeting would be about, only that the matter was crucial. This was going to be an uphill battle, convincing the priests that the daevas had truly returned. She did not need them to argue against her before she even had a chance to speak to them face-to-face.

In the middle of the gathered priests, the magi sat next to each other. Farnaz's gray hair was tied back into a loose braid that hung down her back, her green eyes bright and attentive. Her gaze upon Soraya was calculating, curious. She too was in the dark about this matter, unsure whether Soraya's next action would be to her benefit or not. Beside her, Shapur's expression was more guarded. He regarded Soraya like a bird perched upon a high branch, unsure of whether to fly or not. Soraya tried to reassure him with her eyes. He merely pursed his lips, unconvinced.

"There is indeed a crucial matter," Soraya said, turning to Ghazal. The elderly priest arched a brow in question. "One that required the mobedin meet at once. However, I believe that there is someone else more capable than I of explaining it."

She stepped to the side, glancing behind her. The thick wooden doors to the chamber slowly opened and Dashna entered, carrying the wooden crate in her arms. A murmur rose up through the priests at the sight of her. Farnaz visibly snarled.

Dashna briefly exchanged a glance with Soraya before walking forward to stand amidst the mobedin. When she arrived, she dropped the crate to the floor with a resounding thud. Her hard, defiant gaze rose to look at the priests. Her chin jutted out, a clear gesture of indignation

Farnaz stood from her seat, the wooden chair scraping loudly on the stone floor. "What is this?" she demanded. She glared daggers at Dashna, the lines around her eyes creasing. "This Turani thief was spared execution, but she has no right to speak before this council. Your grace, I must insist that you to send her away this instant."

"I disagree."

Farnaz's head whipped to the side to narrow at Shapur. He turned to Soraya and nodded once, then met Farnaz's gaze. "If the empress believes she has something valuable to say, who are we to contradict her? We should hear her out, and then come to a verdict."

"Dashnawillspeak," Soraya chimed in, uplifted by Shapur's support. "That is my command."

Farnaz's gaze was fiery, but she begrudgingly backed down. Soraya's heart leapt, reveling in the small victory.

"I myself did not believe what Dashna told me at first," Soraya spoke, addressing all of the gathered priests now. Her gaze met each of theirs one by one. "I thought it was insane, the result of hallucination or madness. I thought it was impossible. But now Dashna has shown me evidence that convinced me to believe her." She paused, letting her words sink in. "I urge you all to hear her out and listen with open minds."

Soraya stepped back, nodding to Dashna. The young woman inhaled deeply, then spoke.

"You may have heard of the horrifying stories I brought from the deserts of Turan," she began. "Of cities vanishing into thin air, monsters terrorizing caravans, and strange magic running through the air. Of only one thing I am certain: the daevas have returned to Parthia." Another loud murmur rose among the priests, louder this time. Soraya raised a hand and they instantly quieted.

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