Kejuta: "The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land"

Keju 20, 1661

"It's time."

Kejuta turned to look at the speaker and slowly nodded. She knew that the time had come again when her captors needed her to do her duty. Based on the conversations she overheard from the other slaves, she figured that the crops were dying once again. Knowing the Merzakians, they were praying futilely to their beloved goddess for a miracle, which will never come. Don't they realize that the gods had forsaken them over several centuries ago? Kejuta couldn't help herself but smile bitterly over that fact. Not to mention the fact that they...

One of the Merzakians cleared his throat and she realized that they were giving her an impatient and stern glare. Kejuta just ignored him and continued to braid her daughter's hair. They wouldn't dare punish her; she was too precious to them after all. After she tied a ribbon in Adia's hair, she kissed her daughter's forehead and whispered, "Take care of Pendance, okay?" Adia nodded to show that she understood and went to her little brother, who looked at his mother with solemn eyes. The woman looked sadly at her; it had been three years now. Adia whose joyful voice brought a smile to everyone's face hadn't spoken ever since that incident.

She wished that her husband was here to keep an eye on the children. Thesben was most likely working in the fields or tending the animals. Who wouldn't blame him? He hated this part as much as she does. "When your father comes back, tell him that that dinner is done already but it's needed to be heated up," she reminded Adia. "Oh, do you have my necklace for safekeeping?" Her daughter put her hand in her apron pocket and held out a red pedant necklace to show her that it was safe. Then she put it back in her pocket again and patted it.

Kejuta tried her best to make it seem like a normal, typical day but it was pointless effort. Nevertheless, she and her children put up the facade just to hide the fact that they were scared. Giving them a kiss one last time, she walked toward the group of men and nodded to show that she was ready. Then they walked out of the door without looking back.

The procession continued quietly on its way to the destination. They walked past by the slaves' quarters and the fields where the crops were being harvested. Kejuta noticed that people, who were in the lodgings, were discreetly peeking through the raggedy curtains while those working in the field turned to look at them as they walked by. However, as soon as they realized that they were spotted, they quickly looked away as if they were worried that one glance from her will curse them. She pretended that she didn't notice their reactions; it had been that way for thirteen years now so she had gotten used to it. Even though she didn't want to admit it, Kejuta was still bothered by it. Luckily, her children haven't experienced any discrimination from their fellow colleagues... yet, but then she and her husband did their best to ensure that.

The journey continued that way until they reached their destination – a crumbling stone foundation of a once-renown temple. According to legend, the Merzakian enemy, the Purians, burned down the building when they invaded the country around a millennium years ago. The guards led her to the center of the temple where the High Priest awaited for them. In spite the fact the ground was arid and cracked due to the lack of rain; a patch of flowers with white leaves and stems was able to survive. But then, there was something different about those flowers – they glow a pale white light, which gave her a comforting and peaceful feeling whenever Kejuta walked through them, and they didn't need the usual nutrients that other plants needed to live.

When everything was in place, the High Priest began the ceremony. "Oh, Great Goddess!" he beseeched as he raised his hands toward the heavens. "Please hear your people to whom you promised..."

Kejuta tuned the man out; she had heard that spiel so many times now that she memorized it by heart. From what Thesben told her, a priestess called the Maiden was supposed to perform the ceremony. However, the Maiden was a follower of Puria so the Merzakians would attempt to kidnap her and force her to follow Merzak through tactics that had been lost. The bitter fight continued for several centuries until one day, the 43rd Maiden claimed that she had received a vision from Puria. According to her, the patron goddess was weary of fighting so she commanded her people to move east to a place where they wouldn't be bothered though in Thesben's opinion, the Maiden was probably tired of the attempted kidnapping so she used that excuse to convince her people. Of course, they listened to her and that night, they left without a trace much to the dismay of the Merzakians.

"Please open your heart and listen to our cries, Great Goddess! We are mere insects compare to you," the priest pleaded in a loud voice. Kejuta sighed irritatingly. The old man loved to hear himself talk. Looking up at the sky, she estimated that it was nearly thirty minutes now. At this rate, she would probably be home by midnight – not in time to tuck her children to bed.

"For the gods' sake, got on with it," she grumbled. As if he had heard her, the priest quickly finished his prayers, which was still reminding Merzak about her promises to her people. Then the priest turned around and walked her; he clasped a dagger so tightly in his hand that his knuckles were white. As she lifted her head up, Kejuta swallowed nervously in spite of herself. The priest soon stood right in front of her and without warning, slit her throat before she could even react. Falling toward the ground, the woman counted that this was the twenty-second times she had died.