Dethan reached the cave with barely enough time to spare. Oh, how he despised the act of walking into the eight hells. How he feared it. He broke out in a sweat right at the threshold of the cave and found he was trembling from the exertion it was taking to simply face what was coming. He wished he were ignorant of it. Wished it would take him by surprise so that his suffering would not start until the very last minute. But he knew that it was better this way. This way no one else would be harmed or have to suffer along with him. If he was going to burn the way he had burned before, such a conflagration could bring the entire city to its knees. Certainly it would deliver it a wound that might mean life or death in their battle with the Redoe.
And what of that? Oh, he knew he could be of help, knew that his head for strategy would allow them to win against the Redoe, but the question remained: Should he bother? What ends would it serve him? Or, more concisely, what ends would it serve Weysa?
Wait, he thought suddenly. Weysa was the goddess of conflict. Here was a conflict. Perhaps not the mightiest of battles but a conflict just the same. And if he and the people of Hexis could defeat these barbarians, they could do so in Weysa’s name. It could be the start he was in need of. If nothing else, it would gain him gold. Gold he would need in order to gather an army. There was no guarantee that after all this time his cache would still be there. So much time had passed; so many things had changed. He would then have traveled across the desert for no reason. Here there was an assurance of victory and gold. In the desert … there was a big question and insecurity.
No, he realized. It was better to stay. Better to work the king and his daughter to his advantage. He could see it would be fraught with troubles and would not be smooth going, but what battle ever was?
With that thought, his body suddenly seared hot. The shock of it, the pain of it, brought him to his knees. Before, he had been chained to the ground, so he had not been upright for the burning; it had never occurred to him to lower himself to the ground in preparation. But he was on the ground now, hands and feet against the stone, his skin rippling and blistering wherever it was exposed.
Suddenly he realized his clothing might burn as well. He would come from this and find himself naked again. He forced himself to rip at the clothing he wore, trying to get it free of his body. But it was too late. Flame slammed through him, rupturing out of his palms first, then the sensitive flesh of his groin, the flames licking along his cock like an acidic lover’s tongue. That was what made screams break out of him. He felt his hair burning, his skin melting and crisping. The fire raced over every inch of him, and he went from hands and knees down to the floor on his face. Fire melted his eyes in his head, and he thought it was worse this time. After having known tranquillity and a life without the fire, coming back to it was worse than when it had been ever present. He breathed in flame, scorching his lungs. On and on it went until his flesh was a melted puddle around him and he was just burning bones.
And so it would be. Until the juquil’s hour. And somehow knowing there would be an end; knowing there would be a reprieve; knowing there would be teal eyes and a soft, delicious scent, and rich dark hair, made it a little more bearable. There was a snake, the krunada snake, a black furred creature of such sleekness, glistening and sinuous, beautiful in its own way—nothing in the world could compare to it … save the hair of a grandina.
He quieted the strength of his thoughts. Clung to them but savored them quietly, lest they become known to the gods and the gods sought to take them away from him or punish him further. He couldn’t imagine what would be worse than this, but if this torment had taught him anything, it was that the gods were creative in their punishments.
He had to keep focused on his goals. For as much as getting an army and defeating cities were his goals in Weysa’s name, there was another goal—one closer to his heart—that drove him. He would win wars for Weysa, give her the power to defeat her enemies, and then he would ask for … would beg a reward from her. And it would not be that she permanently remove his curse. This was nothing. This suffering could be borne. No. He would ask for something else entirely.
He would ask for his brothers.