Standing in the street just outside the palace, Siska looked to the heavens. She could already hear Xaryasha’s guards, the rattle of armor and saber that would certainly mean her death if they found her. She knew that she would be hunted and hounded through the streets, and that she would never know peace. The legacy that she had cultivated for so long would be thrown onto the ashheap, and there was nothing that she could do about it.
Even her daughter, she knew, would never be able to live down the shame of this incident. She had ruined everything for both herself and her descendants.
But still, she had done the right thing. She could not stand by and allow a child of the imperial family be slain, no matter what the Dashturi had told her. He might have an intimate connection with the great god Ormazdh—she supposed that anyone who had attained his rank must have that—but that did not mean that he was the final arbiter of what was right and wrong.
She shivered at that heretical thought.
Much as she was disturbed at the thought that she had given up some fundamental part of herself by daring to challenge the man who was second to the Shah in the Most Blessed Empire of Haranshar, she had to escape.
Pulling the hood of her cloak up over her head, she made her way through the streets of her beloved city. It was fortunate for her that, as a city that had only gradually sprung up, it was as full of twists and turns as a rabbit’s warren. As she made her way to the western wall—which she knew was the least defended—she offered a prayer of thanks to Ormazdh that her younger brother had dragged her out into the streets so many times when they were children.
Finally, she came in sight of the great wall that reared over the steepest side of the great mount upon which the city of Pasgardakh was perched. While the other three walls had their own gates—each named after the creatures that had been slain by the city’s founder: the sphinx, the manticore, and the dragon—this one had only a small gate that was only lightly guarded. Siska knew that her only hope was that it continued to be so, for otherwise she knew she would be trapped in the city. She would be crushed between the invading forces of the prince and the vengeful Dashturi.
She strained her eyes, and she saw that indeed there were only two guards on duty. She fought down the feeling of disappointment. Deep down, she had hoped that the explosions that had rocked the palace would have drawn them away, but clearly they had been given their orders.
Just as she was steeling herself to move forward, the night in front of her exploded into a brightness more piercing than the noonday sun. A rush of heat and sound blasted her, and she thought for sure that she was going to die in that moment of incandescent beauty.
Ormazdh must have been looking down upon her, however, for when the light faded—leaving her vision spotty and her ears full of a dull ringing—she saw that what had been a solid section of wall with a gate was now a pile of rubble. She did not know what had happened, and she did not dare to question. Seeing that there were no invaders swarming into the city yet, she bolted toward the gap.
Already there were cries from all the other parts of the city. She did not have time.
When she reached the gap, she saw that indeed there was a steep drop to the plain far below. The only way down was a steep path that even goats would find hard to traverse.
Sighing deeply and taking one last wistful look at the city that had been her home, Siska started to make her way down.