I knelt on the ground gazing with bloody hands at Hassan in disbelief realizing it wasn’t his hand on my shoulder. I tentatively peered out of the corner of my eye at the fingers to see the unnatural glow of a Godly being.
It was then that my memory was slammed with snippets of begging for Ander to allow another Djinn to bond with me and he had willingly obliged. After that, everything had been a blur of carnage- blood, scorch marks, and what was left of the mangled bodies of the Furkhorn raiders.
“I finally get to see her,” cracked Hassan’s voice snapping my focus back to him.
“Hassan-” I started, but bit my tongue.
‘Please don’t leave me,' I had almost said, but I had never begged once in my life. Why start now? Why make his last moments hurt when I knew he desperately wanted to be back with Sari? I just wished he hadn’t thrown his life away for me.
“Go to her,” I whispered.
I could tell he was fighting to stay with me, but as soon as I uttered those words, his body relaxed and he drew his last breath. There was a sudden change in the air, as if time itself had stopped, I remembered this feeling from before.
“Must I always clean up your messes, brother?” came the tired voice of Zanti.
Ander chuckled. “For once, this wasn’t my doing.”
He sighed annoyed tired sound. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be instead of torturing this poor boy?”
Ander gave my shoulder a reassuring fatherly squeeze before disintegrating into shadow leaving a faint scent of smoke in the air. Zanti came closer to me kneeling on Hassan’s other side.
“You’re the first being I fought with my brother over you know,” he said humbly.
“Why?” I asked. “Why me?”
What else could I ask him? Why would the Gods fight over a Raksheesh?
“It’s unusual for you to be able to sense us as much as you do, but maybe that is due to your time spent in the temple. You’ve never resented us regardless your tribulations- it’s odd. Especially for a Raksheesh.”
I watched him as he got up and walked among the mangled forms of the other dead.
“I will let you say your goodbyes to him while I take these warriors through,” he said. “I won’t be long so make it count.”
I was so distracted by seeing the ghost forms above the Furkhorn raider’s, it wasn’t until Zanti left, that I realized Hassan was hovering beside his body.
“I’m glad you lived,” he said relieved.
I didn’t know what to say. What could I say?
“You’ve grown-no become a good man, Jaspen. You are the son I never had and I regret... I regret not raising you myself, but I know Thekros was the right choice. Don’t let this world turn you cold, son. Not like I allowed it to do to me. I hope the Northern lands hold more warmness than the dessert ever did for you,” he said with renewed compassion. “And I better not see you for a long while.”
“I will do... do my best,” I said feeling choked with emotion.
It hit me all at once- all I had lost in the last few days and now the one man I had looked up to was leaving me for the land beyond. It was almost more than I could bare.
“That is all I can ask for,”he said a brief smile crossing his face before falling. “I’m sorry I am not continuing this journey with you.”
“It was meant to be only mine,” I murmured. “I wish you hadn’t thrown your life away for me.”
Zanti returned stilling the world once more before Hassan could say anything more.
“Hassan, are you ready?” he asked.
“Once we leave, Jaspen, you may build a pyre here.”
I nodded in reverence. Zanti offered his hand and Hassan took it tentatively giving me one last warm smile.
“Take care of Ransue for me.”
I watched them disappear into Zanti’s realm where he could finally be at peace with my mother. It wasn’t until I found myself alone that I realized that the soil I stood on was the birthplace of the big three Gods- Tamille, Zanti, and Ander. No reason Zanti had given me permission to build a pyre here. The blood I split today was a good sacrifice to them all.
As I humbly prepared Hassan’s body, what finally snapped me out of my stupor was seeing a small white star on his right peck. A star was a marking of Drem, the God of dreams and it brought a smile to my face considering for most of my life, Hassan hadn’t been a big believer in the Gods. Had he ever known Drem had chosen him?
I laid Hassan’s cold body on the pyre breaking the chain around his neck and taking the obsidian band placing it on his left ring finger before igniting the kindling to send Hassan to the other side. As I watched his ashes rise towards the sky, I took his blade from the worn sheath running my fingers over Thekros’s fine craftsmanship and remembering the day all those years ago Hassan had come to pick up the blade. Tears fell silently running down my eyes and falling onto the fine steel. In such a short amount of time, I had lost everything and everyone. The only thing that gave me some reassurance was that Hassan had finally found peace.
The sun was beginning to set by the time I had finished paying my respects. I whistled and two horses trotted up to me- my mount and Hassan’s beige mare. She had a fearful canter to her as she approached me most likely from seeing me in my full Scortha form when Rowan had been in control.
“It’s alright girl,” I said gently.
I slowly moved my hand to her snout and allowed her to smell me. Her ears eventually went from being backwards in fear to forwards and she calmed down. What was I going to do with an extra horse? I could probably sell her- she was too skittish to ever trust me as Svia did. I knew that the Northerners had settlements much like Shemesh spread across their lands instead of having to rely on the trade routes. For now, I would go where the stars took me.