The palace corridors were littered with the bodies of Laila’s friends: the brave men and women who’d decided to give up their lives to protect the Queen. Many of their families had protected the crown for generations. For some, this had just been a good job with a fair employer and reasonable compensation. No matter the reasons, they had all laid down their lives—for nothing.
The Queen was dead. A new one stood in her place.
Laila wished she was dead too.
With every step, Laila came closer to the only room in the palace that remained relatively unscathed from the violence of the night: the throne room. The gilded floor-to-ceiling doors were flung open. Rebels stood at the entryway. Rebel wasn’t even the proper term for them. They were more like mercenaries who’d slunk in from the most desolate areas of the continent to pledge their souls for a chunk of change. They wore black and red wood-crafted masks and had axes slung over their shoulders. Blood dripped from the blades, forming a pool at their feet. Laila didn’t think she would ever get the metallic scent from her nose.
Within, the tips of palm trees brushed the glass ceiling revealing the glimmering stars of the night sky. Torches lined the edges of the circular room, casting flickering shadows on those who had survived the massacre. The throne itself was separated by a moat of flowing water. It was a golden hollow egg set on a pedestal encrusted with emeralds. Atop the throne sat the murderous queen herself: Aziza.
Laila quickly surveyed the rag-tag group of survivors. She recognized the palace seamstress kneeling beside the head chef and pressing a bloodied rag to his side. A group of five junior guards huddled together. They were only fifteen years old. Their instructors more than likely lay dead in the halls. Not a single member of the Council of Twelve was present. They were locked away in their homes, sleeping safe and sound.
Aziza snapped her fingers and more rebels appeared from the shadows. “My sister—traitor to el-Faiyum—is dead.” She held up a crumpled page and dropped it into the rushing water at her feet. “My contacts uncovered a plot to collude with the Khenesian Empire to sell our independence. I could not let this stand.” She tapped her fingers against her chin, bathing in the fear that lurked within their silence.
“As the late queen’s younger sister and the only remaining child of King Ejikeme, I crown myself your new regent.” She balled her fingers into a tight fist and let her gaze sweep across the assembled crowd. “Anyone who rejects my claim will die. But, if you stand with me, we can build el-Faiyum a new, independent future.”
Laila waited until Aziza’s eyes met hers and slowly knelt down on her knees. She covered her pounding heart with her fist and bowed her head to place her lips onto the skin of her knuckles. Laila had no more tears left within her. Fury burned through her veins. Jamila’s reign was over, but Laila’s had just begun.
The Queen is dead…
Before she’d left Khenset, they had agreed Laila would only contact her father in the most dire of emergencies. A government coup seemed like the sort of emergency to warrant a letter. She would need to act quickly to have her plan enacted before Aziza could consolidate her power.
She sealed the letter and tucked it at the bottom of her bag beneath a couple scrolls she needed to return to the temple.
When she reached the streets outside the palace, the air quivered with tension. Soldiers patrolled with clubs and swords. The merchants who normally shouted at anyone who walked along the thoroughfare, stood silently by their carts, only occasionally softly calling to those who passed too close. Laila adjusted her headscarf so that it covered the lower half of her face.
She moved to squeeze into a gap in the crowd when a hand grasped her shoulder. She looked up into a face that was vaguely familiar: dark brown skin and crooked nose. He looked like a man she’d done basic training with. Palace guards didn’t normally train with soldiers, but Laila wasn’t any normal guard. What was his name? Adnan? Amed?
She lowered the scarf the barest amount. “Yes?”
“Going anywhere in particular?” he asked.
Laila pulled one of the scrolls from her bag. “I need to return these to Sekhet’s temple.” His eyebrow twitched. “I’m a student of the healing arts.” Only half a lie. She was a student of the healing arts, but not in this country.
Adnan or Amed stared into her eyes for a long few seconds before releasing her and continuing his patrol.
Laila wound through the city streets. The crowds were scarcer than usual, but still thick enough to conceal her. She caught snatches of conversations swirling around her.
“Queen Aziza has saved us from a life of tyranny.”
“Khenset won’t be happy.”
“She’s brought war to our doorstep.”
“May our Queen find peace in the afterlife.”
But one word remained absent. Murder. They were careful to keep it from their lips with Aziza’s spies littering the streets.
Laila ducked into an alleyway and felt along the wall for the loose stone. Once it was dislodged, she slipped the letter into the empty space and checked to make sure no one had seen. Her father’s contact checked for messages every evening. She had been silent for so long, she imagined that the messenger would barely know what to do with himself.
Two nights later, Laila laid in bed curled up beneath her blanket hiding from the ice-cold draft that swirled around the room. Sleep evaded her. She let her mind drift to a place where Jamila still lived and breathed…
It was coincidence that Laila was in the city. She had just returned from military training in the southern territories when her younger sister appeared at her hip.
“Oh, I’ve missed you.” She crouched down to hug her sister. Amani was missing one of her front teeth and her sun-kissed light brown hair was done up in loose, fat braids that bounced around her face. “Where is father?”
Amani peered around exaggeratedly. “There’s a queen here, but no one’s ‘sposed to know.”
Laila shook her head. Her sister could not keep a secret to save her life. The Empire was vast, spanning most of the continent. Queens were rare; it was even rarer that one would be in Khenset.
“Alright, go play,” Laila said. “I’ll come find you soon.” She watched Amani run into the gardens. The sound of laughter bubbled up as she joined the other children of the nobility. She crept around the perimeter until she reached a seldom used entryway. It was midday, so most everyone was having lunch, or escaping the heat with an afternoon nap. Laila made her way to the center of the palace without being spotted by anyone who could tell her stepmother or brothers that she had returned.
Laila heard her before she saw her. Her voice halted her in her tracks. It was deeper than Laila’s. It spoke to her soul like the opening notes of a symphony. When Laila peered around the corner, she was blown away by her beauty. The foreign queen had tightly coiled hair that bounced with every nod of her head. She wore a silver headdress shaped like a swan that nestled on the crown of her head. The swan’s beak dipped onto her forehead. Laila stood in the shadows and listened to the tail end of the conversation.
“The goddess has spoken to me and led me here to this point,” she said.
Emperor Hassan sat across from Queen Jamila. He nodded and smiled. “Baast only speaks to those who truly believe. We can work together to make this a beautiful world, Your Majesty.”
“I think so as well, Emperor.”
The next day Jamila traveled back to el-Faiyum—with Laila at her side.
The acrid smoke from the pyre brought tears to Laila’s eyes. She could almost taste the ashes of her dead queen on the wind.
As a devotee of Baast, it was only appropriate for Queen Jamila’s funeral to be held at the temple. Out of the eight gods, Baast was the least worshipped in el-Faiyum. The late king had seen his daughter’s devotion as a flight of passing fancy.
The golden statue of the goddess loomed over the crowd, emerging from a fountain at the base of the temple steps. Her eyes were narrow and cat-like. Her face was frozen in a snarl. Baast carried an axe in one hand and a crown in the other, held in a lazy embrace. Laila imagined that if the goddess were to come to life, she would drop it in disgust. What is a crown to a goddess?
The gathering was small, consisting of only the closest members of Jamila’s family and friends. Scattered among them were members of the Council of Twelve. Laila could not tell whether they had attended the funeral out of respect for the late Queen or fear of the new one.
Embers flew into the night sky as the pyre collapsed into itself. Laila could no longer make out the maroon shroud that had covered Jamila’s body. When the last of the flames died, Baast’s servants would collect the ashes and entomb them within the temple, so the queen could rest within the goddess’ embrace for eternity.
A murmur ran through the crowd as the Queen’s Guard cleared a path. Queen Aziza took slow, steady steps, leaning on the arm of her handmaiden. A maroon veil covered her face and her waist-length silky black hair was tied up in a scarf. The sleeve of her dress revealed her bare arm, newly tattooed by the priests in the days since Jamila’s death. Swirls of gold ink encircled her arms leading up to her shoulders. Laila knew that the skin of her back was inscribed with her vows written in the ancient tongue. If she listened hard enough, she could almost hear Jamila reciting the words herself.
She could feel Aziza’s eyes on her through the opaque veil. She stopped just feet from Laila and released her grip on her maiden. Laila fell to her knees before Aziza and bowed her head. Her thick braids shielded her face from view. She clutched her right fist to her chest. “My Queen.”
Aziza bent down and took Laila’s hand, helping her to her feet. “My sister was incredibly fond of you. I know that you grieve just as much as I do.”
Laila’s lips tightened. “These are difficult times for us all.”
“Speak a few words,” Aziza said. “Your memories will bring joy to the hearts of these bereaved souls. Just take care not to excite the crowd too much.”
Laila hesitated. Aziza meant to catch her in a trap. To say no would be insolent, to say yes would be dangerous. Even more dangerous would be Aziza’s retribution if Laila gave an incendiary speech. “I will tread carefully, my Queen.”
Aziza ran her nails along the skin of Laila’s cheek. “I will call for you tonight.” She leaned close to Laila’s ear. Shudders ran along her spine as the veil touched her skin. She could feel the members of the crowd holding their breath, struggling to hear the words Aziza whispered in her ear. “I believe you will find my bedroom most alluring.”
Laila turned without a word and followed the path Aziza had left in her wake. She paused before the flames. The air burned all the way down her throat. She could imagine her lungs filling with black smoke, her body combusting from within. She would melt and run down the mountain like soup, drizzling into the streets and sticking to the soles of the workers’ boots, being ground down into the soil, and burying herself deep within the earth.
She ascended to the third stair and looked down at the meager crowd below. This was not a funeral fit for a queen. Aziza and her guard had disappeared down the hill. A few of the stragglers shifted from foot to foot. Laila looked to the statue of the goddess. Give me strength.
“I did not come here to praise Jamila.” Stillness fell over the onlookers. “Queen Aziza has told us of her sister’s crimes and they are grievous. She was my friend, but she was not perfect. Which one of us is? Aziza tells us that Jamila’s reign would have marked the end of el-Faiyum. Yes, I know. I am a foreigner. Who am I to speak?”
There were nervous laughs from the crowd.
“But, I have lived in this country for three years now, and it has become my home. Jamila’s treaty with Emperor Hassan would have threatened el-Faiyum’s sovereignty.” The ground felt unsteady beneath her feet. Laila closed her eyes to steady herself. “Literacy rates have increased not only in Pri’am, but in the rural areas outside the capital. During the reign of her father, only 40% of the adult population could read. Thanks to Jamila’s education reform policies, 90% of our children will grow up to be literate citizens. The construction of the irrigation channels Jamila designed will be complete in a year’s time, bringing much needed water to stricken communities.
“She reigned three years and did more in that time than her father before her. And yet, Queen Aziza says that she deserved to die, and we must never question our monarch’s intentions.”
Laila turned and began to walk up the steps of the temple. She could feel their dagger-like eyes on her back. They would take her speech how they liked. They would run to the Queen or remain silent. She banished those thoughts from her mind. She needed to pray.
The palace walls glimmered in shades of red and gold as Laila soundlessly passed through the halls. She had abandoned her funeral garb and was dressed in thick plated armor. Her sword, forged from steel in the palace armory, sat in its sheath at her back. A snarling, full-maned lion adorned her chest plate. Her braids were wrapped in a high bun on her head.
She was given a wide berth as she stalked through the halls, winding her way up through the palace to the Queen’s private wing. The guards gave her a solemn nod as she swept past them and into the bedroom that once belonged to Jamila.
The walls were bare. They were once covered in art from the Khenesian Empire that Laila had lovingly curated herself. Colorful masks, abstract paintings, portraits of tribal lands and roaring seas. They were all gone.
Even the furniture was different. Jamila’s polished wood cabinets had been replaced with a gaudy white dressing table. Only the bed remained the same. A snarling lioness crafted from stone stared back at Laila from the foot. Sheer curtains were pulled back to reveal Aziza, bare-breasted. Her hair fanned out around her. Her honey-colored skin glittered in the candlelight.
“The Khenesian trash made the perfect tinder.” She cocked her head, gazing at Laila, waiting to see her reaction. Laila gave none. She remained standing in the doorway. Aziza stretched out on the bed and arched her back. “How does my body compare to my sister’s?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Aziza sat up, brandishing a dagger. She sneered at Laila. “Do not lie to me. I will not have a liar in my court.” She brushed the tip of the dagger along her finger. “Lie to me again and I’ll christen this knife with your blood.”
Murder is fine, but dishonesty is where she draws the line, Laila thought. She only nodded and stood perfectly still, taking care not to move a muscle.
“Will you not speak?”
“You called for me, my Queen.”
Aziza tossed the knife back on a pillow and stood. She began to pace the strikingly bare room. Her bare feet sunk into the plush carpet. “My sister was stupid to reach out to the Falcon.” A shiver ran down Laila’s spine. “Those barbarians. They’ll take over the entire continent if they’re not stopped.” She paused before Laila and reached out a hand to cup her cheek. “I have a job for you, love.”
Laila inched away from Aziza’s hand. “What would you have me do?”
Aziza leaned in and nuzzled her nose against Laila’s neck. Every muscle in Laila’s body was wound tight. “I want to shore up our defenses,” she whispered. “I will show Emperor Hassan that el-Faiyum is not to be trifled with. What better way than to have one of his own leading my army?”
“I’m only a palace guard, my Queen.”
Aziza gripped Laila’s chin, digging her nails into her skin. “I want you on the front lines, Laila. My sister wasted you.” Aziza released her, pushing her away. “Your father is a politician in Khenset, is he not? Can you gleam any intel from him?”
Laila’s back was to the door. She rested her palms against the wood, steadying herself. “That can be arranged,” she said.
“Good.” Aziza sat down at her dressing table and lazily waved a hand. “You may go now.”
In the morning, Laila found a letter on her dressing table. She opened the curtains and held the envelope up to the light. The black wax of the seal was intact. She brushed a finger over the imprint of the falcon in flight. She ripped open the flap, extracted the paper, and studied the message. When she had committed the contents to memory, she tossed it into the hearth and watched the edges blacken and crumble.
She quickly dressed in an unassuming, plain brown dress and covered her hair in a scarf long enough to partially conceal her face. She left her weapons behind in the trunk at the foot of her bed. The hall was empty when Laila left her room. She slipped down a side staircase and emerged in the back gardens.
The gardens were surrounded by a high stone wall. On the other side lay the city beyond. The paths were lined with flowering bushes and spindly trees with leafy branches to block the piercing sun. At the center was a pond filled with vibrant sunset-colored koi and floating lily pads. Sometimes Laila and Jamila would sit on the benches in near-perfect stillness to watch the frogs jump from lily to lily.
Today, Laila was on a mission. She kept to the edge of the wall, keeping her gaze roving along the path for the palace guards. She had her head turned away when she bumped into a chest covered in bronze. Her excuse sat heavily on the tip of her tongue as she took in the woman standing before her. She was ebony-skinned with closely cropped hair and ears lined with jewels. A silver ring hung from her right nostril. Two spears made an X across her back. She towered a foot over Laila, staring down with an intense glare.
“This is the greeting I receive?”
Laila kneeled down before Baast and kissed her boots. The words had been knocked from her throat. She couldn’t think of anything to say. She scrambled back to her feet to find that the goddess’ outfit had changed. She now wore a plain dress identical to Laila’s. The spears were gone, though Laila knew she never traveled without a weapon. Baast took her hand and led her over to a grassy area near the wall. They sat with their backs against the cool stone in a bubble of silence.
“Jamila is dead.”
Baast’s gaze bore into her. Laila shrunk back. “As if I don’t know,” she said. “What is next? Will you bed the woman who killed her?”
Laila jumped to her feet. “If I do, you can strike me down yourself! You may not believe me, Mother, but I loved her.” Her shoulders slumped. “I really did.”
Baast opened her arms and Laila fell into them. She buried her face in her mother’s neck and sobbed. She hadn’t allowed herself to cry since the night it happened, but the door had been opened and the memories were flooding back to her.
Jamila laid in Laila’s arms. Her hair was freshly washed and smelled of coconut and jasmine. Laila slid her hand up Jamila’s nightgown and caressed her breast. Jamila leaned her head back and kissed Laila’s chin.
“I wish I could spend the rest of my life in your arms.”
“I wish I could hold you for the rest of my life.”
They made love as the candles burned down and collapsed beneath the covers to dream. Laila swore she had only just closed her eyes when the door banged open and Kinsin, the head of Jamila’s Queen’s Guard entered wild-eyed and wielding a sword. Jamila covered herself while Laila burst from bed and grabbed her knife from the bedside table.
“What is it, Kinsin?” Jamila asked.
“There’s been an invasion, Ma’am. It appears the princess is planning a coup.”
“Protect this room with your life,” Laila growled. She slammed the door in his face and began to dress.
Jamila lay still in the bed. Her eyes were focused on a distant point above Laila’s head. “You have to leave,” she said, so softly it was almost a whisper.
“What are you talking about?” Laila began to move the dresser in front of the door.
Jamila reached out and grasped her lover’s wrist. “There is a secret passageway in the closet. Go now before she gets here.”
“You’re coming with me.”
Jamila shook her head. “No, I’m not.” She pulled Laila closer and quickly kissed her lips. “Aziza wouldn’t attack if she didn’t have at least partial backing of the council. If I am to die, I will not allow her to stab me in the back while I run. Get word to your father. Live, for me.”
Shouts sounded in the hall. Jamila jumped from bed and shoved Laila into the closet and then she kneeled before the foot of the bed and waited. Laila felt for the trapdoor in the closet’s back wall and soundlessly slid it open. Through the crack in the door, she could see when the soldiers busted down the door, sending the dresser toppling down. Their swords gleamed red with the blood of the Queen’s Guard. And behind them came Aziza dressed in a floating white dress with the crown atop her head: a golden circlet of leaves embedded with rubies and diamonds.
“You would betray your own flesh and blood for your ambitions, sister?” Jamila’s voice was soft, but it stopped everyone in their tracks.
Aziza smiled and took a small blade from one of her soldier’s hands. “I would do it over and over again.” One hand yanked Jamila’s head back by her hair and the other slid the blade across her throat. Blood sprayed across Aziza’s dress, staining the white fabric red.
Laila collapsed into the passageway and stumbled in the dark for what seemed like an eternity. Her legs fought against her. Every fiber of her being told her to go back into that room, to lie in Jamila’s blood and let Aziza’s soldiers kill her too. But that wasn’t what her love would want. No, she would have her revenge.
Baast shook Laila’s shoulders, bringing her out of her memories. “That’s enough,” she said. “You can cry when this is over.” Baast ran the back of her hand down Laila’s cheeks, wiping the tears away. “What do you need me to do?”
Laila was suddenly five years old, sitting in her mother’s lap as she sang her to sleep. “Come with me.”
“Anything for you.”
On the western edge of the city sat a dilapidated neighborhood with small wooden shacks nestled one beside the other. A few lone pieces of grass stuck up in piles of dirt served for yards. Beyond was thick forest leading down from the mountains of el-Faiyum to the plains of Aswan and the gushing river that marked the border between the Empire and el-Faiyum.
The forests were filled with traps and soldiers. Most visitors entered the country along the Scholar’s Road—mostly traders and academics. El-Faiyum held little interest for most—the country was nothing other than the city of Pri’am and farmland scattered across hills and mountains.
Laila looked around the decrepit surroundings and sighed. Jamila had wanted to create a better life for these people, for her country as a whole. The Empire was a massive influence: nine territories united under one ruler and guided by Baast. Working with Khenset was the only way el-Faiyum would survive. She wanted her people to see them as friends, not enemies.
That would never be.
At the end of the road, closest to the forest, Baast and Laila ducked into the shack and allowed their eyes to adjust to the darkened room. A spear pointed from the shadows. “Ashallay?”
“Maharasha amed,” Laila said softly. “Don’t you recognize your own sister?”
Rahi emerged from the darkness and enveloped Laila in a hug. “I’ve missed you,” he whispered into her ear.
A lantern was lit, and greetings were exchanged. Rahi’s team, two men and three women, bowed to Baast and settled into relaxed stances around the small shack. Baast examined their weapons and the various explosives they had brought. Laila and her brother stood in the doorway. The sharp lines of his face were illuminated in the evening light.
Laila laid a hand on his cheek. “How is your mother? And is father in strong health?”
Rahi shook his head. “You worry too much about everyone else but yourself, Laila. They’re fine.” He looked away and clenched his fists. “I want to kill this evil woman myself. The Queen was a good woman.”
“She was the best.” Laila blinked away tears, keeping her mother’s words in mind. “But, Aziza’s life is mine.”
“We’ve memorized the layout you sent us. I think we’re ready.”
“You think, or you know.”
Rahi chuckled. “I know we are and besides, we have the goddess of war on our side.”
Laila looked over her shoulder. Her mother’s eyes were already trained on her. Her irises glowed in the dim light. Her skin shimmered. She gave a curt nod and began to dissolve until the only sign of her presence was a pile of gold dust. An invisible wind swept through the open door and whipped it into the air. Baast had fought alongside Laila and Rahi’s father on the battlefields, had helped him conquer the surrounding lands and build his empire. She struck down those who stood in his way. But, there was only so much she could do for her daughter. Godly blood flowed through Laila’s veins. The Khenesian people called her ‘The Blessed Child.’
Laila would be on her own.
Laila and Rahi waited until the moon was high in the sky before entering the passageway beneath the castle. They had set explosives at key points along the palace walls—areas where the structure was compromised. The palace guard would be distracted securing the palace from outside threats, while Rahi’s team took down the Queen’s guard from within. Aziza had planned her coup well. The only thing she hadn’t accounted for was the passageway in her closet. If she had been smart, she would have assumed her ancestors would have an escape plan. And why would they tell anyone but their direct successor? The only person Jamila had told about the secret passageway was Laila.
Laila and Rahi crouched just inside Aziza’s closet until the ground began to shake. Shouts sounded from the hall, growing more distant as the guards ran to investigate the explosion.
Laila would keep this scene etched in her memory forever: the look of horror that crossed Aziza’s face as Laila sauntered from the closet. Aziza stumbled away from her dressing table. Her eyes darted to the door.
“What’s the matter, my Queen? Did I frighten you?”
Aziza tossed her hair over her shoulder. She pressed the wrinkles out of her emerald-feathered gown. “Of course not. I thought you might return. I’m actually on my way out.” The closet door opened wider and Rahi emerged. Aziza narrowed her eyes. “Who is this?”
Rahi leaned against the door and crossed his arms. “Prince Rahi,” he said. “I wish I could say it was a pleasure to meet you.”
“Prince…Rahi? As in second son of Emperor Hassan?”
Laila circled around closer to Aziza. She jerked a thumb at Rahi. “My older brother.”
Her eyes widened slightly. “You didn’t tell me you had royal blood, soldier.”
“You didn’t ask.”
Aziza’s hand inched for a drawer and Laila moved, slamming Aziza’s head into the desk and jerking her arm up behind her back. “Try. Me.”
Aziza sneered. “Do you really think you’ll make it out of here alive?” A knock sounded at the door. Rahi opened it and slipped out. “I don’t care who your father is. You’re in my country.”
Laila laughed. “If you knew who my mother is, you would tremble,” she said.
“And who would she be?”
Laila leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Baast.”
Aziza sniffed, “That explains why my sister liked you so much. You were in with her beloved counterfeit goddess.”
Laila threw her across the table. Aziza’s head slammed into the mirror before she crashed to the ground. She scrambled up and lunged at Laila, throwing her off balance. Aziza’s fist slammed into her chin, jerking her head back. Laila threw her body away, but Aziza snatched a dagger from Laila’s belt. She reached out and sliced her arm.
Laila hissed as blood bubbled to the surface. Aziza lunged with the knife, but Laila blocked the strike and kneed her in the abdomen and drove her elbow into her spine. Aziza collapsed.
“I refuse to let you speak about my mother or my lover that way.” Aziza tried to crawl to the door, but Laila leaned all her body weight onto her spine. The volume of her voice rose with every word until she was screaming. “Your sister loved me, and I loved her.”
She pulled Aziza’s head back by her hair. “I just want you to know this before I kill you. You will be the last of your line,” Laila said, pulling her dagger from its sheath. “el-Faiyum is no more.” She drew the blade across Aziza’s throat, splitting the skin and spilling her blood across the carpet.
She tossed the knife to the ground beside Aziza’s lifeless body and left the room. She didn’t look back. She did not want her memories stained by this. The bodies of the Queen’s Guard littered the hall. Rahi conferred with one of his men. When he saw Laila, he crossed to her and pulled her into his arms.
“The army should be here within the hour to secure the city.” el-Faiyum would be the tenth territory in her father’s empire. Jamila’s last gift to her people.
Laila soundlessly nodded and continued walking. She didn’t know where she was going. She paid no attention to the servants who streamed through the halls screaming and crying. Word would spread throughout the capital that the Khenesian army was invading. Soon they would realize that the Queen was dead. Laila didn’t care. They had stood by and watched as their queen was murdered. One more death would not matter.
She left the ruins behind and walked the streets. Blood dripped from her fingers. Smoke filled the air from a fire burning in the hills. She climbed up the long road to the temple. It was completely dark. The only sound came from the fountain at the base of the steps. Her steps became heavier with each stair she climbed. When she reached the top, she collapsed and lay down on the cold stone. Baast’s slender fingers brushed over her daughter’s hair and she began to sing a lullaby from times long past.
Laila began to cry as she stared at the blood on her hands. At last.