Love is sweet, but life is sweeter still.
Now, in these last moments, Terimi thinks of all she's given up - first, the embraces of girls whose love was a passing fancy, for the sake of the one girl she truly loved; then, the love of that girl. And now, life itself. And she'd do it all again.
She stills her feet a moment, touches the cold walls of the lightless stone tunnel. Still, not a sound. But it won't be long.
With the stars shut from view, she's alone with her thoughts, the memories she'll never get rid of: the body and its torn flesh, and the look on the face of the dead woman. She sees that face, now, all the time.
Nothing matters anymore. They know about the book now: they know the truth, that the old evil is still alive. There's so much more that she could tell them, too, if only there were time. If there were still a chance that she might escape ...
She keeps on walking.
Summer came early to the plains of Ullari, and lasted long, like the long sleepy days themselves. In the city of Serred, by the lake, where Terimi grew up with her mothers and sisters, she loved those summers best. Even in the longest of midsummer days, most people stayed in bed from sunrise to nightfall. Terimi's mothers - businesswomen who often worked late - usually slept in and didn't get up until the stars were out.
This was always Terimi's chance to explore. She'd sneak out of bed in the mid-afternoon and tiptoe down the stone stairs in the old two-story brick building, feeling very scandalous and daring in her dayclothes and her sunglasses.
Serred wasn't a big city, and was usually quiet during the daytime. Occasionally an autocar or an oxcart would roll down one of the side streets, but otherwise there was little to break the hazy stillness. Most people found the bright daylight jarring and disquieting, but for Terimi the stillness of the city itself during those hours carried a mystery of its own.
Her journeys might take her climbing up the outside stairways on the old stone and adobe dwellings, walking uninvited and unafraid across the rooftops of sleeping families. Or she might catch a transport to the outskirts of town and amble among the rocks in the heat of the late afternoon.
As she grew older and developed other interests, she would coax a lover, usually a friend from school, into a late-afternoon tryst in the ruins of some granary or temple. By the time the sun set and people started to stir, she'd already be back home.
And it was on one of those summer days that Terimi met the two people who would change her life forever.
[To be continued.]