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Feeling slightly better for having a bit of light to keep with her, she continued down the street, occasionally looking through a window to see the remains of a room. After the third storefront she passed, she wondered at the reason all of the furniture and even drapes, carpets, and accessories had been left behind. Even in the desperate flight from Antar, people were still taking their belongings. They removed their drapes, even ones far less decorative then what Stephenie suspected were here. Why would everyone desert a city and yet leave almost everything behind as if they were simply going across town to visit a friend? She was hesitant to consider an answer. This city had been deserted and abandoned for a long time. Antar castle and city above had been there for as long as memory could recall and the original castle even before then. Had any of those above known about a city deep in the rocks under their feet, there would have been stories.
Stephenie used her stolen crystal to look into a shop that reminded her of a bakery, with a large oven in the back wall and the remains of shelves still partially attached to a side wall. The sparkle of something shiny and shaped like a pendant caught her eye. Looking closer at a mass on the floor, she paused and then stepped quickly away from the window as a shiver of fear rolled down her spine.
She closed her eyes, but the unmistakable image of a human skull laying on the floor would not leave her sight. She shivered again and looked up and down the street. Perhaps they didn’t leave.
Mustering her courage, Stephenie slowly approached the window again. She forced herself to look at the mass on the floor. Wiping away some of the dirt on the window, she could make out the arms and runners of a rocking chair mixed with what was likely clothing and the decayed bones of the person who’s head had rolled several feet away after the chair had collapsed. Bits of hair and desiccated skin clung to the skull, which was fortunately staring away from the window. The person died sitting in a chair and no one came to remove or bury the body?
Stephenie sniffed the air and thought about the strange odor she had been noticing since she had entered the city. It was a musty sweet smell. “Is this a plague city?” She felt her throat tightening with each breath and again quickly retreated from the window. She turned toward the way she had entered the city, ready to run back to the large doors and flee, but the dryness of her throat and the sound of water stopped her. If this is a plague city, then I am as good as dead and I might as well die after I’ve had something to drink.
Slowly, she turned around and continued down the street, no longer bothering to look into the store fronts. The rot and death they held did not interest her anymore.
She passed several side streets, but continued following the slowly turning main street because the sound of water was getting louder in the direction it was heading. After a short time, the street opened into another large plaza at least a hundred feet in diameter. Several streets exited the round plaza, but at the very center, lit with several points of glowing light was a fountain. Its water pushed up from a center mound and cascaded down several stone statues into a series of white marble bowls. The fountain was a dozen feet high and thirty feet across.
Drawn by thirst, Stephenie quickly reached the edge of the fountain and could feel a cool mist splashing over her. Knowing she would die slowly and painfully from whatever disease had killed the residents of this city, she did not care if the water was poison as long as it tasted fresh. Taking a small sip, she tested the flavor and found it cleaner than what she was used to in the castle. Scooping up more water with her hands, she drank deeply before noticing how dirty her hands had become. After quickly rubbing away the dirt, she moved a couple feet away and continued to drink until her stomach felt full.
Relieved of her thirst, she sat down next to the fountain and buried her face in her wet hands. She sobbed with frustration and relief in one confused wail. While she would not die of thirst, how was she going to get out and warn her father and Joshua about her mother’s betrayal? She cradled her cut arm in her lap and leaned back with her eyes closed. I’ve got light and some water, but what good would warning everyone do if I bring a plague to them? She shook her head. Damn it, why do the gods hate me so? Fundamentally, she knew her tie with Elrin, even if a result of her mother’s doing, was her real damnation. She could not bring herself to worship the demon god and she dared not seek out the other gods for fear the priests would sense her connection to Elrin.
Opening her eyes, she stared at her foot prints along the cobbled street. A lone trail to remind her that she had to do whatever it was she was going to do on her own. There was no one to help her.
She sat silently staring into the distance for some time. Then she blinked her eyes, uncertain that she was not imagining it, but after a moment, there was definitely a strange luminescence moving down the street. As it grew closer, she scrambled to her feet, recognizing the dim outlines of a human form. The apparition was moving in her direction. She quickly moved away from the fountain, but as it closed on the fountain, it appeared not to notice Stephenie at all. Instead, it held its, or her, hands as if carrying something. When it reached the fountain, it leaned over as if scooping up water.
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Daughter's Justice continues Stephenie's journey of discovery, where she must overcome national opposition to her being a witch as well as lead her friends and protectors on a mission to stabilize her countries finances.
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