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Anshor was wrong. About the risk, that is. It was my risk. He is my child. I don't think he understood the lengths I would go to to protect him. I was leaving my only daughter behind to protect him, and my only consolation was that her name was taken out of that jar the day she pledged herself to Dame Maya.
Yet there I was, waiting alongside what remained of my family for dawn to break and the rest of the townspeople to assemble.
My thoughts drifted to my grandfather once again. He never spoke of my mother, and everything I learned about her was told to me by others who had known her well. He never spoke of her, except for once. He told me that he could recall every freckle on her face, the way the light glinted off of the gold in her eyes, the exact hue of her hair. It was the tenth anniversary of her death, a mere twelve days after my birthday. He said he was glad that I had the slanted grey eyes and black hair of my father.
After he died, I thought I understood his pain. I thought I knew the loss that he felt each and every day after my father's name was drawn and my mother took her own life. I was wrong.
But even more than I learned pain that day, I learned fear. I learned that fear was hot and blinding. When Dame Maya finally emerged from the Temple, groggy-eyed and calm as she ever was, I learned that fear wasn't so different from anger or hatred. Pyrrha followed her, eyes carefully trained on the ground.
She approached us, expressionless, and touched Anshor on the shoulder. Are you ready?
He stepped forward. Dame Maya, I will not be returning to the soil today. My family and I are leaving.
He turned to face the rest of the town, most of whom were still half-asleep. We would have left last night, but we wanted to extend the invitation. Join us if you're finished with solstice. Or don't. We'll be leaving soon either way.
You can't leave... you will die out there!
Well, it looks like I'll die in here if I stay, so I'm going to take my chances.
Murmurs from the crowd grew louder, became part support, but mostly protest. I could feel the fear rise with the sun on the horizon. Benny and Hanna emerged from the crowd, a bag in each of their hands.
We packed last night We waited for you to come get us.
I'm glad you are coming. Anyone else?
A young woman with a toddler balanced on her hip stepped forward, followed by an older man with almost no hair. The woman's name was Peony and the child was her orphaned nephew. The man, Bard, had lost his wife last month. They were the only ones.
Mother, I think we need to leave now. August picked up Sigil and took Lynne's hand in his free one.
He was right. The rest of the crowd was getting angry. They were afraid. Anshor's sacrifice was supposed to protect them, but he was leaving. Soon they would be emboldened to stop him.
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