Zhota couldn't recall later how long he lay on his back, staring up with a mind as clear as the cloudless sky above the forest canopy. Nor could he recall performing the tasks he did afterward: dressing his wounds and chanting healing mantras, struggling to build a pyre to purify Akyev's body as he slowly regained mobility in his left arm. The first thing he remembered was bringing the flute to his lips and blowing. He had been afraid that he wouldn't recollect the song's notes from when he had played them in his youth.

But the tune must have been right, because Mishka emerged into the clearing.

"Zhota?" he asked meekly.


Mishka followed the sound of his voice and stood at his side.

"The demon..."

"He was not a demon, but he is dead nonetheless," Zhota answered.

Zhota removed the sash binding Mishka's hands and then walked the boy to his mother's head. He wanted to give Mishka a chance to say farewell before the monk gave it to the gods. But the child only replied, "No... I don't need to. I have the song."

After the work was finished, Zhota pondered which direction to set out in. He was unsure how the Patriarch would react when Akyev failed to return with evidence of Mishka's death. Regardless, Zhota knew it would be nearly impossible for the ruler to find another monk like the Unyielding—one unopposed to carrying out acts of wanton destruction and cruelty that went against the nature of balance.

Despite the terrible things he had learned of late, Zhota found solace in the fact that Akyev and the Patriarch were aberrations. Like the state of the Gorgorra itself, they were evidence of the troubling times that had settled on the world, wrongs that could be righted. Other monks, honorable warriors who would never have done what Akyev had, were risking their lives to drive back the burgeoning forces of chaos. They had not closed their eyes to the righteous tenets upon which the monk order had been founded, and neither would Zhota.

He led Mishka by the hand out of the clearing and turned north toward Ivgorod, intent on bringing word of everything that had transpired to his order's attention. His path had never been so clear as it was now, and for the first time in his life, he felt as if he truly understood what it meant to be a monk.



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