Clouded Purity

by Cynus

Chapter 4

The vision shifted in subtle ways, drawing Prism back into his own memories. He allowed Ghayle to pull him there, comforted by the vision of Grim and his family. Longing for simpler times filled his heart, and as much as he wanted to resist the pain ahead, he also ached to relive the bright moments along the path. Giving himself fully over to Ghayle, the city streets of Kobinaru reformed in his mind.

Grandmaster Valkean walked behind him, holding one end of the rope binding Prism's hands. They'd walked in this manner ever since leaving the shadow of the bridge, and Prism didn't bother to hide his annoyance. Darting angry glances back at Valkean's pleasant smile with every other step, he eventually tired of trying to make the monk feel his ire.

As soon as he gave up, Valkean returned Prism's efforts in kind, and was far more successful. "Prism, you're from the Dorram, aren't you?" He asked. Prism gritted his teeth and remained silent. Nothing good could come from answering his captor's questions. He'd already done enough talking for the day. Silence did not deter Valkean in the slightest, and his casual prattle resumed as soon as Prism glared at him again. "I'll simply keep asking you until you answer me, so you might as well speak up now."

Prism snapped his attention forward again, intending to ignore everything Valkean said from that point on, but the monk continued speaking anyway. "You've the accent of a Dorrami. I spent an entire summer there once," Valkean remarked wistfully. Nostalgia and Dorrami summers didn't fit together in Prism's mind. A Dorrami summer was hot, humid, and drew every insect from the surrounding countryside like commoners to a festival. Valkean's voice remained as pleasant as ever, however, as he went on, "There's a type of fly which usually infests your wild chickens, but sometimes they go after Dorrami, don't they? They're little annoying things, buzzing in your ear all day long. You try and swat them, but they always seem to know your hand is coming. You could learn a lot from the Sikoba fly."

Sikooba flies. Prism shuddered at the thought. He'd spent enough nights outside in summer to have a lifetime of experience with the annoying insects. Muscles twitched in his shoulders and back as he instinctively sought to swat at a bead of sweat on his neck.

"So, how'd you end up here, anyway? The Dorram wasn't good enough for you, so you decided to visit old Kob and see if it's everything they say it is?" Valkean said.

"You's as annoyin' as the Sikooba," Prism said. He spat on the ground in front of him, a common offensive move in Dorrami one made when trying to start a fight.

The spitting didn't phase Valkean in the least. "I never could master that long 'o' sound. It's hard to know when to place the emphasis. Maybe you could teach me?" He suggested.

Prism snorted. "You's don't want me teachin' nobody. How's about you just look south, yeah?"

Valkean chuckled heartily. "I'm not going to let you go, Prism. I made a promise to Captain Tson, and he will be expecting you to be in my charge when the next inspection comes around. If you had committed a less serious crime than attacking a nobleman, he would've been more lenient, I think."

"Don't think so," Prism replied. "I embarrassed the Rooba."

"Rooba," Valkean said, smiling with amusement. "An old rooster. That's quite a crude word in the Dorram. Captain Tson isn't so bad, as far as soldiers go. There are less honorable men."

"Honor? Who's carin'?" Prism asked as they reached a stretch of road filled with cages and people inside them. Huge stakes cemented into the ground held iron rings connected to chains holding men and women alike. They belonged to all different ethnicities, though all appeared human from a cursory glance.

Valkean led him to a cage with a single male inside. He wore a hooded jacket and simple pants, but kept his hands concealed in his pockets, and his face in the shadows of his hood. Intense eyes weighed on Prism from those shadows, and he pointedly avoided the prisoner's gaze.

"I'm going to let you stand here while I take care of some business. I'll even leave your hands untied, if you promise not to move," Valkean said, reaching for the ropes around Prism's wrists. He waited for Prism to nod in agreement to his terms before removing the bindings. As he stepped back he said, "But, break that promise, and I promise you I won't let it go so easily."

"What are you's up to?" Prism asked.

"I'm going to make a second pardon today. It's expected of me during each sale season," Valkean replied. "I take two prisoners to work off their debt at the Temple of the Mountain."

Prism nodded, not completely understanding what Valkean meant about a pardon. As far as he understood the term, 'pardon' meant forgiveness for a crime, and following the monk to some temple didn't seem like forgiveness. As soon as Valkean left, Prism searched for an opening to slip back into the city, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the monk as possible.

Valkean's voice immediately penetrated the surrounding chatter. "I told you not to move, Prism."

Prism turned to peer through the crowd of prisoners and found Valkean staring at him only a few yards away, speaking to another human dressed in the blue and silver livery of Duke Selfaeth's court. "Wasn't movin'," Prism said firmly.

"Good," Valkean said, turning away.

Prism sighed and settled against the wall of the cage behind him. The longer he waited there, the more impatient he became, and once again his eyes wandered to different potential avenues of escape. He took several steps forward, resting against one of the large wooden stakes for cover, thinking Valkean had moved somewhere on the other side.

He gasped and moved backward as a knife thudded into the wood next to his head, wobbling left and right as it settled into a crease in the wood. Prism dared to look over his shoulder and found Valkean and the liveried official talking together nearly thirty feet away.

"I told you not to move!" Valkean said, projecting his voice over the din without yelling. "The next one will go through your hand."

Prism gulped and raised his hands, moving back toward the cage with the hooded figure. Lesson learned, he stayed next to the cage, not wanting to earn Valkean's ire again.

"I'd listen to him, human," a voice said from behind him. "Did you see that throw?"

Prism peered into the cage and met the eyes of the hooded figure, piercing violet in color and full of burning intensity. In the shadows of the hood, Prism could make out the pointed tips of the young Gor's ears and the faintest hint of the tattoos which adorned them.

"You's a Gor!" Prism said with surprise.

"Sure as a windy night in the Dobrag," the Gor replied, rolling his eyes as he pushed back his hood, revealing his golden-blonde hair over his tanned skin, and the face of a boy a few years his senior. The tattoos on his ears became much more obvious in full light, twin snakes with the tail at the tip of the ears and the head on the lobe. "You're a sharp one, huh?" The Gor said with a sneer. "Name's Kaeral. Kaeral Elrhanadan."

"Gor's kill humans," Prism replied, his eyes narrowing.

"Not all of us. Some of us like to live among you," Kaeral replied. "Especially when we're not welcome back home." He finished the statement with a smirk and nodded toward the post with the knife jutting from its side. "Do you think you could hand me that knife?"

"If'n I do that, he'll kill me," Prism said, shaking his head.

"If'n you help me," Kaeral replied mockingly, "I'll help you escape him. I know magic."

"Magic?" Prism echoed. "Them's smoketales. Unless you's talkin' spirits in your inks."

"No. Watch," Kaeral said, removing his hands from his pockets and revealing sharp nails on spindly fingers. He scratched a series of symbols in a ring in the wooden bottom of his cage, then placed a hand in the center of the ring, putting the other on one of the bars of the cage. The bar bent slightly, but otherwise remained fixed in place.

Prism's eyes widened at the minor display of power. He'd heard the Gor could manipulate the elements, but he'd never seen it happen before. Such tales usually remained confined to a campfire, and never reality. "Ah! Why you's need me then?" Prism asked.

"Just because I can make the metal bend a little, doesn't mean I can break it without tools. The knife will help," Kaeral said. "So, fetch it for me."

Prism nodded, liking his odds with a magician on his side. He stepped back toward the post, reaching to take the knife from it. "Here. Make it quick—" he started as he gripped the hilt of the blade but screamed as another blade pierced the back of his hand. "Yaaah!"

Valkean walked steadily toward him, another knife in his hand and poised to throw as necessary as he met Prism's eyes. "Prism . . . we're going to have to work on your understanding of 'not moving'." He ignored Prism then, turning his attention to Kaeral. "I see you've met our other acquisition. Master Elrhanadan, of the Northern Tribes."

Kaeral snorted. "You've come to pardon me, m-onk?" He drew out the syllables in a mocking tone, his fierce violet eyes blazing with hatred.

"It seems it's your lucky day," Valkean said, his smile tightening. "No hard labor for you, just hard training."

"At your order? You must be joking," Kaeral replied.

"Not at all. You've already met your training partner. It seems silly to let that go to waste," Valkean said.

"Aren't you's goin' to do somethin'?" Prism cried, staring at the knife in his hand with horror. Screaming wouldn't do him any good, but he didn't want to do anything else. Blood dripped from both sides of the wound, slowly pooling at his feet. Knife-handling had been a major part of his upbringing with Tobrig, and he knew better than to take the knife out without something to staunch the blood flow.

Valkean reached into his robes and withdrew a long scarf. He handed it to Prism. "Here. Wrap it up," he said before reaching to take the knife from the post and sliding it inside the other half of his robe. "And then hand me the knife so I can clean it." Prism nodded dumbly but did as he was told. Valkean offered him no option but obedience. "Do you understand honor now, Prism?"

"No," Prism said, whimpering in pain as he removed the knife. He grimaced, wrapping the scarf around his hand as tightly as possible.

Valkean stopped him and gently took over wrapping the wound, applying proper pressure with careful and practiced hands. "Honor means you keep your promises," he explained. "You dishonored yours by moving and trying to free your new friend after telling me you wouldn't move. I honored mine by putting a knife through your hand. Don't worry, we'll stop and have that healed. Tomorrow." His eyes and amused smile made it difficult for Prism to trust him.

"T'morrow?" Prism asked with frantic eyes.

Valkean nodded and said, "Be careful with it. Keep applying pressure so you don't bleed out too much. We'll get it healed by a Fedain first thing in the morning."

"Bani Sikooba!" Prism cursed in Dorrami.

"Now there's the Prism I expect to see," Valkean said, patting Prism's arm gently. "Keep that fire, boy. It'll keep you from becoming a Rooba."

Within the hour, Prism and Kaeral sat in the bed of an old work truck while Valkean and another monk rode in the cab. Laborers from the Prisoners' Market had placed Kaeral's entire cage inside the bed, while Prism remained unbound except for the makeshift bandage on his hand, which he held in a vice-like grip with his other hand.

To avoid dwelling on the pain, his thoughts instead drifted to the strange day he'd had. At the beginning of the day, he'd been on his way to Kob, to be sold for three years of labor by Boggi. He'd met, grown attached to, and threatened to kill an attractive young nobleman in the space of an hour, and then had his contract purchased by the most unusual man he'd ever met.

Despite the pain he'd endured along the way, this was the greatest adventure he'd ever had, and the intrigue kept him hooked. As much as he wanted to run the other direction, two things stood in the way. One, Valkean would catch him—this was no longer a risk, but a definite fact. Two, he needed healing anyway, and now he wanted to see what happened next.

The truck turned north, heading toward the low hills on the outskirts of Kobinaru. A large structure with decorative slanted roofs and a high wall stood prominent on the tallest hill. Great trees adorned the hill, and some sat within the walls themselves. No trees stood close enough to the outside of the wall to allow easy entrance. A pair of heavy doors served as a gate, and their current road took a winding path up the side of the hill and led directly to the gate.

This was the Temple of the Mountain, Prism's destination. As much as he'd resisted the idea before, the structure piqued his curiosity. His pride didn't allow him to admit his excitement, however, not even when Kaeral asked him plainly, "Why are you just riding along? You could jump out and run."

Prism raised his injured hand. "I need healin'."

"Come on . . . you must have a better reason than that," Kaeral said. "Don't tell me that monk got to you."

Prism shifted uncomfortably, avoiding Kaeral's gaze as he stared at the passing scenery. They'd just left Kobinaru behind, passing easily through gates identical to the ones which had stalled him and Boggi earlier. Valkean had passed through the gates with barely a wave from the soldiers to delay him.

"You know what they make you do here, don't you? Training every day, nothing but simple meals . . . you'll have to shave your head. What are they going to do to my beautiful hair!?" Kaeral bemoaned, running his fingers through his golden locks. Prism regarded him curiously, admitting that Kaeral did, in fact, have beautiful hair, though not as beautiful as Grim's.

Grim. He was the third reason to stay, as irrational as it seemed. Grim lived in Kobinaru, and if Prism wanted to be anywhere near the strange youth who'd rescued him from the soldiers—albeit only temporarily—he'd have to play by the rules.

"Are you even listening, Prism?" Kaeral asked.

"Tryin' not to," Prism admitted, glaring at the Gor.

"You really want this life?" Kaeral said with a sneer.

Prism shrugged. "Beats runnin'. I guess I'm sick of bein' a wild chicken."

"Oh boy . . . you've got it real bad, don't you?" Kaeral said, laughing dryly. "That monk sold you on something. I can tell I'm going to have a hard time breaking you back down."

"Breakin' me down?" Prism said, looking back at him.

"Yep. You and I run together, I can see it. I'm a thief, you're a thief . . . we always know each other, just by a look. Don't you dare say I'm wrong."

Prism confirmed the assertion with a nod. "You's right about that."

"Then we've got to help each other survive. Help each other get out, too," Kaeral said.

"No." Prism shook his head. "Survive, yes. I can help. Escape? No, I can't help."

"Fine. Half an agreement is better than none, I guess," Kaeral said, sighing deeply. He rested against the back of the cage for a minute, then came back to the bars, gripping one in each hand as he insisted. "But I'm still going to try and get out. Women aren't allowed in the Order of the Mountain, you know. I hear the monks don't even have sex! What kind of people don't have sex?"

"Are we's supposed to be joinin' the Order?" Prism asked. Following the trail of adventure was one thing but abiding by such strict restrictions was another. He didn't like restrictions, no matter what the reward might be.

Kaeral waved his hand dismissively and said, "Nah . . . just training with them. Just rehabilitating ourselves or some nonsense like that. I hear a lot of Valkean's pardons end up becoming monks, though. They stay, out of that sense of honor he was telling you about. Are you going to do that, give up sex and fun for the rest of your life?"

Prism shrugged, but eventually shook his head. He didn't want to give up anything, certainly not anything which might make him happy one day. Tobrig always said sex made him happy, though Prism had never had the opportunity to experience it for himself.

"I didn't think so," Kaeral said. "The world is rough enough as it is without removing the few things that make it livable."

"The world's rough? Seems fair 'nough. You's take advantage of what's given you, yeah?" Prism replied.

Kaeral responded with a blank stare at first, following it with a riotous laugh. "Haven't you looked around, Prism? Come on, I'm a street kid, spent all my youth in Kobinaru. This is the second time I've been caught, and the first time was just a year of labor on the docks. If you've been paying attention at all, you'd see what's going on. The soldiers get tenser every day. People try to ignore what's happening as the walls get higher, and more uniforms flood through the streets. Not to mention our benevolent rulers the Fedain never seem to give a damn that there's no food in the South." His eyes narrowed, and his grip tightened around the bars in his grasp. "They don't care that human lives are spent fighting my people to the North, just to keep their status quo. And then there's the war with Oligan! Talk about a mess! There's even people saying the ceasefire might end soon. We could be invaded, or worse! And you want me to give up sex?"

"I didn't say nothin' like that," Prism said.

"No, but Valkean will. He'll convince you it's your duty to the world to give your all to protect it," Kaeral said with a derisive snort. "That's all they want is your devotion. To be loyal to their creeds and dogmas to the end of your days. If you want to trade this cage for that one, that's on you, but I only have a four-year sentence to live out, and I intend to stop there."

The conversation had distracted Prism enough that he'd failed to notice their climb up the hill. As the truck came to a stop before the double gates, Kaeral pointed ahead and said, "Oh, it looks like we've arrived at the Temple. Ready for the fun to begin?"

Prism sighed and ignored Kaeral, directing his gaze instead to the view. He expected it to be his last view of the outside world for a long time to come. Kobinaru stretched out before him, a metropolis extending to the ocean in the west and far to the south, covering and disappearing behind the southern hills. Little of the city rested behind the massive walls, and the connected settlements to the south had little protection at all.

Though they didn't need it, either. All the prominent buildings aside from the temple resided within the walled section. The Council Chambers stood prominent in the center of the city, and The Duke's Palace sat behind another wall in the noble district, built on a small hill rising above the rest of the city. At least, it had before the modern additions of towering apartment and business buildings filled the skyline.

Kobinaru hadn't seemed so massive when Prism had paraded through the streets, though he wished he could've seen it from the back of Boggi's constabulary vehicle when they first arrived. He'd never seen such a vast population center—nothing of this size existed in the Dorram.

Creaking alerted him to the opening gates of the temple, and he turned to watch the truck drive slowly through the entrance. As beautiful as the city skyline had been, the temple grounds took his breath away. A beautiful garden filled nearly every corner, except for the small gravel driveway leading to a simple garage. The massive size of the trees became more apparent than ever, spreading wide with spring blossoms adding their subtle mosaic of color as a frame for the boldness of the temple itself.

The temple rose five stories in tiered, slanted levels. From Prism's current vantage point, the roof of the fourth level prevented him from seeing most of the topmost level. From its apparent size, he guessed it held no more than a single room. Part of him yearned to reach that pinnacle and look out toward the city again, just to take in the view, but the monks would catch him quickly. He'd have to wait until a proper chance presented itself.

The truck came to a stop and the gates creaked close. Grandmaster Valkean stepped out of the cab and came to Prism. Two monks in identical robes walked toward them from the front of the temple. "I hope the ride wasn't too bumpy for you. This isn't much of a mountain, I know, but it is the largest hill in the area. It's certainly nothing compared to the Sacred Mountain in Jurro," Valkean said, smiling as he gestured for Prism to leave the truck bed. Prism complied and switched places with the truck driver, who unlocked Kaeral's cage.

"We've kept the road unpaved to deter traffic, though unfortunately many still come here seeking enlightenment as if it's free," Valkean continued as Kaeral crawled out of the cage, stretching cramped muscles. "Come on, both of you. It's time to show you around. Master Delm and Master Porat will give you the grand tour. Don't make trouble for them." He indicated the two monks who'd approached from the temple and then said to Prism, "I'll have Master Janlynd see about your hand."

"Come this way, please," Master Delm said, waving Prism and Kaeral forward. His broad shoulders and steady gait spoke of a man built like an ox beneath his robes, though those same robes obscured any other signs of his physique.

Master Porat was an older man, whose grizzled face gave the appearance of many years spent frowning. Despite his age, he had a sureness to his step and had the largest hands Prism had ever seen. Neither monk was to be trifled with, though as Master Porat spoke, the weight of experience permeated every syllable. "You may roam freely within the Temple walls, except for the Masters' chambers. You may only visit there upon invitation." He met Kaeral's eyes and then Prism's, pausing long enough for both young men to feel the intensity of his glare. "Regardless of how you spend whatever free time you have available, you must still complete your duties on schedule, including your physical training. A full list of your duties will be delivered to you this evening."

"I can't read letters," Prism admitted.

"Then your duties will be assigned orally, and you will be expected to commit them to memory," Master Porat replied, without hesitation. "Among them will be lessons in reading and writing, which you will study every day until you master both."

Kaeral wrapped his arm around Prism's shoulder, making them both stagger for a moment. "Don't worry, Prism. I'll help you out," he said with a bright grin.

"You will not be permitted to socialize during study time, even if one of you is available and the other is not. We are committed to the pursuit of knowledge here above all else," Master Porat said sternly.

Kaeral dropped his arm and muttered, "Sounds lovely."

"You will be assigned a personal mentor, who will be charged with seeing that you fulfill your duties to the fullest extent of your ability," Master Porat continued as he led them closer to the temple. "If you are caught trying to leave the compound, you will be assigned additional duties by your mentor. If you are caught causing trouble, you will be assigned additional duties by your mentor. If you fail to report to your studies on time, you will be assigned additional duties by your mentor. Is this understood?"

"Yes," Prism replied.

Kaeral sighed and said, "Sure thing, Master."

Master Delm took up where Master Porat left off. "To the north are the prayer gardens. You will not be expected to pray with us unless you decide to convert to the Order. The eastern grounds are for training, and the western grounds are for studying and work."

"Where do we's sleep?" Prism asked, hoping to find a place to redress his wound.

"That's where we're going next," Master Delm said, and showed the barest hint of a smile. "Right this way, please."

The pair of monks led them into the temple proper, down a hallway, to a row of closed doors. Master Delm opened one of the doors for Prism, while Master Porat motioned for Kaeral to follow him to the end of the hall.

Inside the room Prism found a simple bedroll and a round pillow, and a wooden chest sat in the corner at the foot of the bedroll. On the other side of the room sat a floor desk below a mirror at waist level, meant to be used by someone kneeling or sitting cross-legged. Opposite the door was a shuttered window, the sill resting at chest level.

"I'll leave you to get settled in," Master Delm said. "Fresh clothing is available in the chest."

He left Prism unattended, closing the door behind him. Prism immediately checked the door, expecting to find it locked with him inside. Instead, he opened it and peered into the hallway, seeing Kaeral similarly poking his head out in bewilderment. They shared a shrug before returning to inspecting their respective chambers.

Prism's immediate focus became the chest in the corner, and he moved to open it, hoping to find medical supplies to take care of his injury. All he found inside were simple tan robes, clean and pressed. He closed the chest in disgust, finding nothing to help him with his current predicament.

He turned with a start as the door opened, and a monk stepped into his chamber. It took him a moment to realize this monk was female, and a Fedain female at that. The bulky robes obscured her gender but didn't remove all signs of her ample breasts, and the diminished light subdued the shine of her pale skin.

"Who are you?" Prism asked.

"Master Jan. Or Janlynd, if you prefer," the monk said, inclining her head humbly. When she raised it again, she wore a kind smile, and her eyes told of a thousand tranquil mysteries. Prism immediately felt at peace under her gaze.

"I thought the Order didn't like women," Prism said.

"Human women," Master Jan said, calmly reaching toward him. "Let me see your hand."

Prism extended his injured hand toward her, and she took it gently in her own. She smiled as soon as she touched him, and he felt a warmth travel through his arm and into his core. She unwrapped the bandage and placed her hands on either side of the cut, which had already stopped bleeding from her initial contact. "You've been touched by a Fedain recently. Interesting." She met Prism's eyes as her own filled with enlightenment. "Oh, that's right, you must be the one who attacked Grimfaeth."

"You's know Grim?" Prism asked.

"He's the son of Duke Selfaeth and has studied with us in the past," Master Jan explained. "All Fedain are bound by a form cultural pacifism. We are only allowed to study non-lethal techniques, and Grim achieved an early education in all of them."

Completely at ease, Prism let the words tumble from his mouth without care. "He's good lookin'."

"A strange thing for a human to say," Master Jan said, raising an eyebrow. "I thought in your culture, loving another man invoked a death sentence." She hummed a soft tune, like a lullaby, as she massaged his hand.

"I lived in the Dorram. Our way's of livin' are a bit dif'rent from Southlanders," Prism replied.

The wound closed entirely, and Master Jan pulled her hands away, resting them against her thighs as she let Prism test out his healed hand. "Still, I suggest you keep those thoughts to yourself from here on out," she said pleasantly. "While a Fedain may accept such a thought without pause, many of the human monks here would have an issue with that. The primary reason human women are not allowed here is because the monks are supposed to be free from temptation. Since Ultakan law forbids human men from mating, such temptations are not even considered here in the Order."

Prism blinked, realizing for the first time what he'd said to her. "Thank you's for the warnin' . . . I hadn't thought nothin' of it."

"You're a nice boy. How'd you end up with such a hefty sentence?" Master Jan asked, regarding him curiously. "What possessed you to attack a nobleman? Especially one you . . . think is good looking."

"I thought I could use him to escape," Prism admitted with a frown.

"Escape what?" Master Jan replied. "Justice?"

Prism looked away, unable to face the truth in her eyes. "I've had enough about justice."

"Ah . . . you're trying to escape consequences for your actions. Those eventually catch up no matter how much you run," Master Jan said, nodding to herself. "The world is filled with people running from consequences, and eventually they run into each other. The collision affects everyone around them." She gestured to the shuttered window in the center of the far wall. "Here, you can face them with honor and discipline, and learn to work through them."

Prism didn't have anything to say to her wisdom, and instead asked, "Will you's be my mentor?"

"No. I have other students who require my attention, I'm sorry. Though I will ensure you have a mentor who will meet your needs," Master Jan replied. "And with whom you may speak freely."

Prism understood the implication in her words and bowed low to her. "Thank you's."

"You're welcome, Prism," Master Jan said softly. "I don't know what the future holds for you, or if the world will ever accept you for who you are, but here you can figure out how to move forward. And you can dream of whatever—or whomever—you wish. No one can take your dreams from you. Rest well. I will see you at the morning meal."

Prism smiled as she left, and for the first time in his whole life, a small hope formed within his heart. Perhaps he had finally found a place he could call home.

Ghayle sensed that Prism needed a moment to collect his thoughts and dropped her hand to the side. Prism wiped a tear from his cheek, unashamed it fell in the first place. He breathed deeply, as if sucking in the last traces of memory from the air itself.

"She remains the kindest woman I've ever met," Prism said solemnly.

"She changed your mind about things," Ghayle said, nodding. "If you hadn't met her, what would've happened?"

"I'd probably have tried to escape with Kaeral. Once I got sick of the place, anyway," Prism said. "It's hard to say, but it was her words and her presence which made me feel at home."

Ghayle smiled. "If you'd left, you both would've ended up dead in a gutter."

"Probably," Prism agreed.

"I have more to show you," Ghayle said. "I want you to understand it all, from the perspective of the present."

"Okay." Prism nodded, but he couldn't stop the edge in his voice as he added, "But when I look at Janlynd, all I see is a world which should've never been destroyed."

"I didn't destroy her, Prism, and you know it."

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