[RO] I'll walk through fire to save my life
Scintilla, Zion

She remembered the first time he had looked at her.

It had been the first time anyone had looked at her – really looked at her – in years. They were all afraid to look at her now that Father had chosen her.

An outsider would not wonder why a man might fancy her. Young and pretty, Zartanah was a creamy gold all over that bleached to downy white in certain places during the winter. She had been a cute child who had grown with high cheekbones and big ears. They had never let her cut her hair short and it was so thick and heavy that wearing it loose was something done only when <i>he</i> asked. She did anything Father said. That was the first, greatest rule.

Everyone in Scintilla knew her fate from the moment Parish Abbott had stood before the assembly and called her forth. Her parents had known first. They had not seen fit to warn her.

That had been a test. Every single part of her life was a test.

When she had been a little girl, surrounded by her sisters and her brothers and her big family, Zartanah had learned very quickly what was expected of her. This world they lived in was a violent one. In order to survive, they needed to prepare for the inevitable end. What was ahead of them was suffering, violence, and trials that would try to tear them from the righteous path. Parish Abbott had been preparing them for this long before she had been born. He knew, everyone understood, because he spoke for God.

So when he chose her, it was like God had chosen her.

That was why Zartanah felt so very wicked for all the things she had felt – the largest of which had been fear. She was frightened of the expectations of becoming one of his chosen brides.

He chose a new one every few years. Sometimes sooner.

They got younger as he got older, but no one ever brought this up.

No part of their culture would allow them to question their leader's guidance. Those around him were blessed and powerful. Speakers and Generals listened to Parish Abbott, and hadn't there always been a woman by his side? sometimes they spoke, and often they sang. Some girls went to his home and were never seen again.

She would become a part of this great secret soon. All that was left was the finishing construction on the cave-like house he was building for her. This great, gaping hole in the rock felt like it did not belong there. It felt like they were digging out a tomb for her to waste away in until she died.

Everyone expected her to want this, but she knew the repulsion in her gut and the aversion in her heart could not be anything less than a warning from the Spirit itself. What else would manifest into the shrieking fits she found herself in at prayer?

Sometimes, secretly, she feared it was the Devil.

That day when she had first noticed him – first really noticed him – they had been strangers. He was tall and rugged looking, but not like the familiar faces she knew. When she had asked her friends about the red-haired man, they had gossiped well enough.

He was from the north, they knew, but where exactly seemed unclear. They had seen him with some of the other soldiers and scouts, or engaging with the Speakers. No one had talked to him directly, but this was in line with how they were supposed to behave. She had been chosen.

Chosen to live like a butterfly trapped behind glass.

They kept looking at each other.

These glances were brief and secretive. He seemed to understand her need for privacy, but each time she caught him looking it woke strange feelings in her heart. Something about him stirred things in her she had never felt before.

It was not by chance that they found each other alone that morning at one of the high points of The Mother, where her waters were louder and more dangerous. During the winter a low-laying mist shrouded the area in a cloud. There was still snow on the ground except closest to the river, where the running water fought back the frost. The riders would leave tracks, but there were always tracks here.

They hadn't really planned this secret meeting, but here they were.

She felt her heart racing.

Why? Why was it like this? She had lived her whole life finding joy in nothing beyond the horse that they had given her for her first birthday. That had been the greatest summer of her life – she had lived young and free and wanted for nothing but an endless youth. Had those weeks gone on forever, she never would have known sorrow.

The winter after that, her life had belonged to someone greater than herself.

This felt selfish. It felt forbidden.

She was terrified about what might happen when she came out here. All she had done was look at him that one day when they had passed out here – and for a brief second, alone, they said hello. She liked the sound of his voice.

All they had said was hello, and then someone had called after her and she had made up an excuse to leave. Then, stupidly, she had told him she would come back again.

He was waiting for her there by the river with his horse. She didn't think there was anything terribly special about the bay gelding, but it had the hardy small-bodied look of a mustang. He was reddish, like his owner – though she supposed his hair was not really red.

Something about his face seemed different than the others.

“Hello again,” he said.


“Can we talk this time?”

“Yes, I would like that. I'm sorry I had to leave before.”

“That's okay. I know how things are. Will you tell me your name?”

“What's yours?”

He smiled at her question. It wasn't an entirely friendly expression. She frowned, suddenly worried she had overstepped. What if he was really someone important? Even if she was a promised woman, she was still susceptible to the judgment of her superiors.

“It's Credence. Most people call me Creed. So what's your name?”


“That's a neat name.”

“Oh um, thank you. I like your name too.”

“Are you from here?”

“Yes. My family has always lived here. Did you come from somewhere else?”

“Yeah, north. Pretty far north of here, actually.”

“What was it that brought you here?”

“A few things. Seems like where I'm supposed to be right now, I guess. It feels like I'm doing something that needs done.”

“What are you doing?”

The moment the question left her mouth, Zartanah regretted it. She had never spoken so directly! Her face flushed with embarrassment and her ears fanned back into her curly hair.

He was looking at her real funny-like now.

“Well right now, that's whatever Command asks us to do,” Creed finally answered. [span=opacity:.80;]“You said you're from here, right? What do you think you're supposed to be doing with yourself?”

“Oh well, I'm...I'm Promised,” she said hurriedly.

The man cocked his head a little to the side. He had curly hair too – most of it was the same ginger-reddish color of his ears and nose.

“What's that mean? Are you not supposed to be talking to me?”


“I don't know what that means. Listen, don't take this the wrong way, but there hasn't been too much explaining about all this civilian stuff. They haven't given me a chance to even get to a service yet.”

“Oh! Oh I'm sorry, I didn't know. Well, um, yes I can talk to you. I can still talk to everyone, though I suppose I shouldn't really be here alone.”

“Do you think I'm dangerous?”

“You're fighting for us, aren't you?”

“Yeah. What about you, what do you do?”

“I mend things. Sometimes I help with the horses. I'm not a fighter, or anything.”

“Yeah, you don't really look like it. I'm a little surprised not everyone here is ready to fight – this place seems pretty active.”

“No one has ever gotten past the outer defenses. As long as those hold there's no reason for all of us to fight.”


“Have you been here long?”

“Not really. Long enough to be out there, I suppose.”

“Not not long enough to see a service?”

He shrugged. “They're keeping me busy. It's all right, I still worship. I'll find my way down there soon enough.”

“I hope you do. It's wonderful, being all together like that and in the presence of the Spirit. There's nothing like it.”

“What's it like?”

“Well, we all get together – we call it Fellowship – and it's just nice to see everyone, firstly, but then there's a Reading. Usually all the Speakers talk. Our Father gives his sermon too. Everyone prays. The Holy Spirit speaks through us, if we let ourselves trust it. Afterwards there's always food, and sometimes the children like to put on their own little performances. That's such a shame you haven't gotten to come yet, you should really ask them to let you go.”

“Yeah, maybe. You seem to really like it.”

“Of course I like it!”

Who was this girl, speaking so freely? When was the last time she had spoken like this? Everyone had always urged her to smile and go along with whatever others asked of her. They would have snapped at her about her tone and supposed attitude.

He didn't seem to notice.

“That's cool. I'll see if they'll let me go. Will you be there?”

“I'm always there.”

“So you'll be able to show me what I'm supposed to do, yeah?”

“I think that will be all right. It's important for everyone to go through Fellowship.”

“Sure sounds like it. They said you guys go out to a big lake during the summer for baptism too – said I was going to need to go do that if I wanted to stay.”

“I'll be going to that too. I did it when I was younger, but now that I'm Promised I have to go back again.”

“Yeah you said that before. What's that mean?”

“Oh, you wouldn't know, of course. I was chosen to be our leader's next bride.”

That seemed to get his attention. Creed look at her with surprise – looked her up and down in a way that seemed far too familiar. When his yellow eyes returned to her face, she saw something else there – concern.

“He's old, isn't he?”

“Well um, yes, I think so.”

“I'm pretty sure – the old guy running my command said he was his son.”

“Yes, he has many sons.”

“And he's already got a wife?”


Out loud, something about those words sounded wrong. There it was again, that awful doubt in her soul. She didn't know why things that were so normal had begun to feel alien and toxic.

“What's getting baptized like?”

“Well, we all make the journey. It's very long – you have to walk, even if some people get to ride. There's guards, of course, so everyone is safe. We're asked about our beliefs, and our sins, and given ways to repent. You have to truly believe, that's all.”

“That's all, huh? And you have to do that again before you marry this old man?”

Was that all he was? Their glorious, God-chosen leader, was just an elderly, hungry predator seeking a young woman to warm his bed and bear his children?

Was that all they wanted her to be?

Was that all she was supposed to be?

There was something else happening now that had never happened before in her young life.

This man from the north saw her, she realized.

“Is that what you want?”

No one had ever asked her that.

She did not know it then, but that simple question would change the course of her life.

Scintilla, Zion

It was snowing in Zion when the wolves came.

She hadn't been there when it happened, but the sound of it had carried. A part of her wanted to go back – to save whoever might listen – but this was when the real trials began. Things had to fall apart. Prophecy foretold as much. The end of days was upon them, just as it was in her dreams.

Credence had believed her. He had believed her from the beginning, when she first voiced her truth aloud. He had warned her about sharing this information with too many people.

“They already have a prophet,” he said. “What if he doesn't believe you?”

“God would have told him.”


“Unless what?”

He was honest with her when he spoke. It was a rare thing these days for a man to speak so openly around her. Ever since her wedding, people acted like she didn't exist. Credence found ways for them to meet, like he had in the beginning. She came to recognize and cherish the people he kept around him.

Credence was her best friend, and he would not lie to her. “Maybe God doesn't speak to him anymore,” the red-head admitted. He was watching her with that same quiet intensity that brought weight to his words. “Abbott is getting old. Things have been getting worse around here.”

They were. Even someone removed from the conflict could see what was happening as fewer soldiers and scouts returned home. When they found bodies, the funerals were held all at once, to minimize the individual losses. Even in her gilded cage, Zartanah understood the danger was inching closer to them by the day.

Boreas had always been there. When she was a child, the conflict had already been ongoing for generations. Some of the other puppies she had grown up with were dead now, soldiers taken in cause of a just war. The violence had taken relatives and cousins. Her own father was long-dead. She wondered if he would have given her to Parish Abbott as easily as her mother had done.

He was old. She had realized this quickly as the months after her marriage dragged on. The youngest and newest of his wives, Zartanah was at the bottom of the sister-wife collective in terms of authority and autonomy. Her honeymoon had been brief – yet so wonderful and dazzling – and hours after their return her position was already changed. She was no longer an individual whose needs and desires mattered – she was a nanny, a mender, a cleaner, a bed-warmer. She hated it more than she had hated anything else in her life, and feared the blasphemy in her heart too dreadful to share.

The only person she could confide in that was not God was Credence. He really listened. He spoke to her like an equal, and valued the things she knew to be true.

There were new scars on him from the conflicts. He wore armor and clothing like the rest of the soldiers, and cut his hair short. Even here, with 'Salem not far from where they met, he came armed to the teeth.

This reassured her, in its own way. The show of such military force was common in Zion. These days, they had to be prepared for the worst.

Credence's yellow gaze remained fixed and hawkish.

“It might be time for someone else to listen.”

He had said something like this to her before.

“You really think it's me?”

“Of course I do. Your dreams haven't been wrong yet.”

He was right about this. Every single vision she shared had come to pass. Empowered by his confidence and trust in her, and again by her own faith, Zartana shared the Word and what she would later come to understand was the  truth. The seals were breaking.

Zion's fall was merely part of a larger, greater story.


Forum Jump: