The old woman wheeled around, crafting symbols in the air, but the dark energy she summoned was extinguished by the light. The children dragged her down to the ground by the hem of her robe.
A golden doorway appeared in the air. Adta screamed frantically as the children dragged her inside. The door slammed shut, and the light began to draw in on itself, coalescing to a bright point in the center. The luminescent sphere flared blindingly for a second and then disappeared.
Pain ripped through Heider’s ribs and his legs gave out from under him.
From the floor, he looked up to see the boy they had led into the Maze. He approached from the altar, dressed in an immaculate white thawb that kicked off bright rays of illumination. There was no indication that he suffered from his experience upon the altar, nor that he had ever suffered at all. His smiling face was calm and placid. “Do you remember me, Heider?”
The warrior searched the boy’s face. “Yes,” he said, grunting at the pain. “But I do not know how.”
“You tried to save me, once,” the boy said. “You tried to save all of us.”
All at once, the floodgates of memory burst open in Heider’s mind. In his memory, he was taken back many years to the night that a band of Toth Farauni entered his tribe’s lands and killed his parents right before his eyes. He was only twelve, and helpless in the face of the assassins. His struggles were useless as they tied a rope around his neck and pulled him behind their horses, along with half a dozen other boys whose families had suffered the same fates as Heider’s.
The Toth Farauni cared only for murder. They did not work as the world’s most feared assassins because they wanted money. Instead, they collected the money merely so that they could continue doing the work they took such twisted pleasure in. Theirs were dark, loveless lives, and they could only grow their numbers by capturing boys and taking them to the training grounds in the Scorpion Flats.
Very few of the captured children survived the journey. Sometimes, none of them did. It did not matter to the Toth Farauni. They wanted only those boys who were strong enough to endure the trial. All the others served just fine as filling for stew.
Despite all his fear, something in Heider knew that he would not die that night. Some aspect of his heart knew that an uncommon strength dwelled within him. But, that same knowing part of his soul also knew that the other boys would die. Of the group, he alone had the strength to survive. It was only a suspicion on his part, but time soon proved him right.