We parted at the high hour of prayer, the bells tolling mid-day all around us, the sky clear and wide. I met with each of the men alone and told him my thanks. I have made many journeys, but only three have been blood-stained, and it is no feigned gratitude that was offered. Each man was needed to hold the bandits at bay. The tides of that battle could have easily turned and swallowed my wagons whole. When I gave Lidahlia her share, she did not look inside. She simply thanked me and asked where a good stable could be found. She refused my offer to ask my merchant friend to house her horse a while longer.
I hesitated at parting in a way that felt strange then, and in a way that feels strange even now. I rested a hand upon her shoulder, and in an instance felt her tense, as if threatened, and then ease. But an instant again and she had stepped aside, offering a hand to shake my own. She gripped my hand tightly and looked me in the eyes. “Farewell, Lidahlia. And good luck on your journey,” said I. She nodded at my words. “Spine straight,” said she.
The day was bright and warm. I watched her disappear into the crowds of this city, walking toward the spire star. Once, in the Great Temple, a priest had told me it was truly a star at the spire’s peak, given by Ezerian and held aloft by faith more than by the spire itself. “It is a star to guide all men home,” he said to me. “This is not my home,” said I, smiling at him. “There is no place that is home for me.”
“Then it is yours all the more,” said the priest. “For the City of Pilgrim’s is a home for all men. It is a home for those who are lost, a respite for those without a home. Every man’s journey may find a rest here.” “Mine is a journey without resting,” said I. “And it is said among my people that the Valdashi’s only home is found in the shoes he wears. It is said among my people that each man walks a journey that no men have walked before.”
“Is it so?” said the priest to me. “No man walks a road alone. We are all on the same journey. The journey to Kolmas is old indeed, but the path you tread is older still. The eldest journey is life itself.”
The priest told me much truth, but perhaps none greater than this: That those without a home followed the spire star in hopes of finding refuge here. And so it was the beggars roamed the street and thieves the docks. So it was that all manner of men called Kolmas their home, though the only bed it offered was stone and the only cloak its ancient dirt. For but a moment I wondered where Lidahlia would find respite in this city of the lost, and where her long journey would take her.
Then I shook off the thoughts of the journey that had passed before me, turning to my work to ease my mind. And so I continued until the storm came. The sky had been clear but moments before, but the storm was sudden, clouds moving so quickly across the sky it was as if some great spiders were encasing all the pilgrims of this city in a blackened silk. I had only seen one such storm before. And I cannot say why it is my mind returned to Lidahlia once again.
I felt as if I cold see her within that storm. But what I felt was not pity for the girl, but fear. The fear was for her and what she must suffer in the story yet to come. It was a fear of what it meant to be one who burned with two fires. For I had seen her kill so surely and with such a fierce spirit, and I had seen her bury the slain without malice. I had seen her wonder at the great river of green, and I had seen her eyes gazing upon great Kolmas as if it was a city built of dust.
The storm raged above me. The sky split open and thunder shook the city.
I did not know what names awaited the girl Lidahlia, but I knew she would earn them. My mind hovered about her story yet to come. I thought, all we have is given, yet sometimes we are given dark and heavy things. I thought, she is a vessel for many things I have yet left unimagined. I thought, I could give her a hundred names from the few days spent walking the path beside her. She was Two-Flamed or Viper-Fang. She was Stone-Grave or Pilgrim. She was Wilting-Flower or White-Silk. She was all of these names, and none of them.
The sky bellowed at the earth and the earth seemed to bow and tremble before it. I saw God as the sky was all light and all darkness.
She was all of these names, and she was none of them. But as the storm raged on, my true mind pronounced a truer name. I gazed upon the storm and saw of a certainty that she rested in the heart of it, and that the storm and she were of a kind. The name I gave her was earned but never told: She is Storm-Soul Lidahlia. And though she was but a frail young girl, the name cannot be wrested from my mind.