The Silent Gardens, The Sisters of Mercy Convent
Natar Village Compound, Ward 7 of the United Republic of Provinces
Nasai, White Moon 3303 – December
The Neutral Zone
Safiya burrowed deeper into the warmth of her cloak against the cold night air as an icy gust of wind blew across her face. She reached a cover of winter trees glistening with icicles and sheltering the medicinal herb patch where she grudgingly began searching for the thick brown stalks of Noni root plants to bring back to Sister Sarai for one of the orphans. The snow covered garden was bathed in the soft white light of the waning moon as she knelt in front of the herb plot, her knees sinking into the few inches of snow covering the dirt path, and if she hadn’t been sleeping soundly when asked to come out here she might have been able to enjoy the calm serenity of the woods at this time of night. Her hands were stiff with cold as she yanked the rigid stems from the ground and placed them into her woven basket, and she tried not to mentally complain too much about having been awakened to make the trek to the gardens, but it was hard. She’d only been back at the convent for two months and she was already itching to get away again.
She tried distracting herself from her internal grumbling by thinking about the warmth of the summer sun on her bare legs when dozing on a blanket of fragrant grass in this very same garden as a child, and of wading in the hot springs while searching for pyronite crystals, but it was no good. The past few weeks had been more of the monotony that she had been trying to get away from when she’d left for the Republic and now she was being summoned in the middle of the night to search for herbs in the freezing cold. She thrust the last of the roots into the basket and closed the lid over them before pushing herself back onto her feet and brushing snow from her knees to start the walk back to the infirmary.
Dawn slowly approached, lightening the sky, and snow crunched loudly under the weight of her boots as she trudged doggedly over the trail that wound its way back to the convent grounds feeling sorry for herself. Sisters Sarai and Maryam had been good to her, and Safiya knew that little Suri truly needed the serum of the Noni root to ease her pain from the fall that she’d suffered last night, but Safiya could not ignore her discontent. She felt more dissatisfied than ever with her life here at the convent – with her life here in Nasai if she were being honest – and she did not want to remain there any longer. Her parents were gone, Amir was away somewhere and she could not get to him, and now Sister Rebecca was pressuring her to go back to school at the Academy to finish the training that Safiya was not sure she even wanted. Getting a glimpse of how the Urnahi were living within the Wall had sparked something within her, and if the Ambassador really would give her a job then maybe she could finally find something worth doing instead of having to complete her studies.
She’d come to accept the fact that she was an empath, but she didn’t like sensing what others were feeling all of the time and the more she learned at the Academy, the stronger her eseeri became. Safiya had her own fears and angers to cope with, but her eseeri was always on and she hadn’t yet been able to master turning it off so she was constantly bombarded by the feelings and emotional disturbances of others; she didn’t want to learn anything else that would make it even more impossible for her to deal with her own pain and loss. Working in the Ambassador’s office would at least give her the opportunity to do something about all of the sadness and hopelessness that she’d felt from people. If she could just get the Ambassador to reconsider his request for her to finish school then she might finally be on her way to finding a little peace of mind.
Absorbed by her thoughts, she tripped over an exposed tree root and had to grasp onto the closest tree to keep from falling, in the process scraping her palms against the cold, hard bark. She winced and shook out her hands, grateful that there was no blood, and regained her balance by leaning against the trunk to rest for a moment. The scrapes were deep and she would need to apply Nourani balm to stop the burning when she returned to the infirmary but she’d be fine, from what she could tell. She began walking again and had reached the frozen pond when she heard a rustling sound coming from behind her. She stopped mid-step, alarmed by something more than what she was hearing. There was an unfamiliar vibration – an energy vibration – but it didn’t feel entirely human. The rustling stopped when she stopped, but she could hear a light panting, very faint, as though something were trying to control its breathing not too far away from her, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up on end.
Fear inched its way over her mind and she quickly racked her brain for possible animals lurking in the woods. As far as she could remember, only a few birds, large insects and maybe a pair of hemlock mammals made their home in this part of the forest in winter. There might be a few water seraphs downhill by the hot springs at this time of year, but nothing large enough to make a rustling sound that loud. She stood motionless for a few moments longer, trying to pinpoint the direction of the vibrations, and sensed that they were radiating from behind her. She took a few steps forward, slowly, concentrating on controlling the beating of her heart as its pace accelerated but the only sounds that she was able to hear were her own labored breathing and the drumming of her heart in her ears. She picked up her pace, anxious to be out of the woods as quickly as possible, and was relieved when she spotted the stained glass windows of the chapel tower in the distance overhead.
Before she could become too happy about being so close to the convent, she heard the whirr of an engine and what she was sure was the beating of copter propellers in the sky above. She stopped again, wary and unsure of running into anyone capable of using a copter, and a flash of memory struck her with terror as she remembered the blasts hitting the ground behind her village all those years ago. A premonition of burning buildings and the cries of children running away from flames blinded her and she remained frozen where she stood as she decided whether to turn around and take another route back but the sound of motion behind her jolted her back to the present danger. The vibrations were stronger, closer, and definitely not human.
She saw nothing but trees and the empty path when she glanced over her shoulder but the low, guttural growl of what had to be an animal coming from the behind the cover of trees was undeniable. Turning away from the sound, she immediately made up her mind to run towards the chapel ahead. Clutching the basket in the crook of her elbow, she sprung into a sprint around the pond, careful of the stones partially covered by the snow, and trying not to trip in the heavy snow boots upon her feet. The growling grew louder as she ran and was accompanied by an erratic panting, as though whatever was chasing her had been running for a long time. Survival instincts kicked in on the most basic of levels and she no longer felt the cold whipping against her face as she ran.
The copter that she had heard was also coming closer and sounded as if it were preparing to land somewhere close by but she no longer cared who was occupying it. She sprinted full speed towards the chapel, nearly falling over twice in the boots that were made more for warmth than for running, as the growling and panting grew louder and from closer behind her. She could tell that whatever it was large and bigger than any hemlock mammal she could imagine but she dared not look back, too afraid at what she would see. The animal snarled threateningly and Safiya was terrified anew as her legs wobbled from the exertion of running through the snow in the heavy boots. Her lungs burned and heart felt as if it would thump its way out of her chest as she raced towards the gate separating the woods from the convent grounds and wanted to scream for help but her over-worked lungs could not manage it.
The rear of the chapel was in full view, she was almost there, but her legs were beginning to give out from under her and her pace began to slow. She could smell the animal now – it was so close – and was reminded of the stench of sulfur as it drew nearer. She pushed her legs forward, willing her body to keep running, and her vision was blurred by tears of frustration as she realized that she physically could not go much further. The light of the rising sun brightened the woods before her and she was suddenly able to see a group of men running towards her as they came around from behind the rectory; she nearly collapsed with relief as they approached. She could hear herself screaming, able to do so now that she had slowed, and was terrified that the animal would pounce on her at any moment.
“Help me! There’s something back there! Something! Chasing! Me!” she screamed, breathless as she propelled herself forward.
One of the four men broke away from the others and raced ahead in her direction. It was the Ambassador and there were officers with him. They each pulled what appeared to be stun pistols out from beneath their robes and the Ambassador, reaching Safiya her first, aimed his pistol at the creature behind her. She heard the animal screech furiously as he discharged his weapon and swung her behind him with his free arm. She slumped against him and peeked her head over his shoulder to look into the woods as he signaled for the other men to continue forward. He remained standing in front of her, shielding her from whatever might try to charge, but Safiya didn’t see anything and it sounded as if the animal was running away.
The Ambassador called out to the other men as they passed by.
“It’s doubled back into the cover,” he called out as they ran.
He lowered his pistol and spoke briskly into a wrist communicator.
“All units. Proceed south and establish a 2 mile perimeter. Again. Proceed south in pursuit,” the Ambassador commanded and holstered the pistol under his cloak before turning around to face Safiya and holding her up by the elbows.
“Are you alright,” the Ambassador asked, stooping over to look into her face.
She struggled for words, still trying to catch her breath. Her lungs had only begun to stop burning and her legs felt unsteady beneath her.
“Yes, I’m ok,” she stammered as her heart raced in her chest. “Is it gone?”
The Ambassador glanced over his shoulder quickly before answering.
“It’s going, or trying to. My men are in pursuit,” he said and began walking with her towards the large trellised gate and archway of the garden.
“Wh-what wa-was it?” Safiya asked, her eyes were wide and confused.
“You’re shivering,” he observed and grasped her shoulders before rubbing his hands up and down her arms from shoulder to elbow several times. “It looked like a grifter. We need to get you to safety.”
A shiver ran down her spine at the mention of a grifter as she stumbled along beside him upon the snow covered path. She’d never seen a grifter firsthand, mostly because they had been prohibited from entering Sahyun’s orbit along with all of the others from the planet Marduk, but she didn’t doubt the Ambassador’s claim; the creature’s vibrations hadn’t felt like anything that she had ever felt before. The Ambassador increased his pace and strode purposefully towards the chapel and as the fear and shock of what had just happened faded, Safiya wondered what he was doing there. She was about to ask him when Sister Maryam appeared at the rear door of the Chapel aiming a feri rifle directly at the Ambassador’s chest.
“Let her go,” Maryam commanded loudly from where she stood several feet away.
The Ambassador did so immediately and stopped.
He raised his hands slowly and called back, “Greetings, Reverend Sister. My name is Sekel El-Amra, we’ve met before, I am first son of High Chief Amel of Am’maah and Ambassador of the Sovereign Tribes of Sahyun. I mean the girl no harm.”
Maryam lowered the rifle at the announcement of his name and was apologetic as she rushed forward.
“Forgive me, Ambassador. I didn’t recognize you. Is she ok?” Maryam asked as she reached them with her hair flowing loose about her shoulders and wearing her bedrobe with a pair of snow boots. “Are you ok, Sofi?”
Safiya nodded and did not resist when the older woman hugged her close.
“She appears to be fine, but we need to get her inside. I can explain my reason for being here, but she’s not safe in these woods,” Sekel stated urgently.
“Ok, yes, of course,” Maryam replied courteously but glanced with disapproval at the grounded copter. “But that transport needs to be moved immediately. It has landed upon our winter crops and we cannot afford for them to be damaged further.”
“Right,” Sekel responded contritely before lifting his wrist communicator again and speaking into it as he followed Safiya and Maryam to the rear entrance of the chapel.
“There is an emergency landing pad a few miles southeast from here,” Maryam stated as she closed the heavy wooden door behind them. “Your pilot can land there.”
Sekel nodded and relayed the information to the pilot as Maryam led the way through the basement storage room to the stairway that ascended to the lower floors of the chapel. Young women and girls were beginning to fill the alter room when they reached the first floor and gazed curiously at them as Safiya, Sekel and a disheveled Maryam walked past the alter room and across the outer gallery towards the infirmary. Sister Sarai, also in her bed robe but wearing a headscarf draped loosely over her hair and shoulders looked up fretfully when they entered the brightly lit clinic.
“You’ve found her! Thank heavens!” Sarai cried and stood from her seat at Suri’s bed-side. “Oh. Greetings, Ambassador.”
“Greetings to you, Sister,” Sekel replied.
Maryam closed the infirmary doors and gestured for Safiya and Sekel to cross the aisles to the pair of empty beds beside Suri. Sarai hugged Safiya briefly and placed a gentle kiss upon Safiya’s cheek before giving her a once over.
“We were so worried,” Sarai fussed as she checked Safiya for injuries. “Mary received a vision of you in danger and then we heard the copter engines overhead – we didn’t know what to think!”
“It was the Ambassador’s copter overhead. His pilot is moving it to the landing pad and Ambassador Sekel has informed me that he will explain why he is here,” Maryam stated formally, her tone slightly disapproving, as she sat down in the chair between the bed where Safiya sat and the table beside Suri’s. “He says there was a grifter chasing her.”
Sarai’s eyes widened with alarm as she removed the basket from Safiya’s arm and returned her attention to Suri where she lay in the bed, her face pale and tight with pain. Sarai removed two of the thick stalks from the basket and began squeezing syrup from the root into a glass but kept her attention on the Ambassador who sat and cleared his voice to begin.
“I received an anonymous report yesterday concerning the young sister here and upon investigation discovered that she has been injected with a URP tracking device,” Sekel explained and removed a small rectangular object from his cloak pocket to show it to Maryam. “I’ll show you.”
He scooted closer to Safiya upon the narrow bed and held the object towards her. When he powered it on, the device began to beep and when he leaned closer, the object beeped louder and faster. Maryam and Sarai exchanged a worried look as he powered off the device.
“The report that I received also indicated that Safiya was in danger. I immediately secured a scanner to confirm the report and located a signal matching her data profile within the URP security systems. I had hoped to prove that the report was false but found her running through the woods behind this chapel from what clearly appeared to be a Mardukan grifter when I arrived,” Sekel stated but before he could continue, his wrist communicator sounded.
“This is Guard Cooper to Ambassador El-Amra. There is no sign of the target. Repeat: no sign of the target and said perimeter has been secured. Awaiting your orders, sirrah,” the voice crackled with static into the room.
Sekel pressed a button on the side of his communicator and responded, “This is Ambassador El-Amra to Guard Cooper. Maintain post at the perimeter until further contact. Repeat: maintain guard post at perimeter until further contact.”
“Copy that, Ambassador. Over,” the Guard Cooper replied and the static ceased.
The Ambassador continued speaking as if he had not been interrupted.
“I’ve yet to notify anyone in the URP or within the Sovereign Tribes about this, only I and my assistant are aware of the tracker, but the possibility of there being a grifter on-planet has added a level of urgency to this matter that I cannot overlook. We will need to have the tracker removed from her and I’ll need to take Safiya with me to report first to my father and then to the other High Chiefs,” Sekel stated and met Maryam and Sarai’s gazes squarely. “You are her guardians. I cannot leave with her without your permission, but if the prophecies are true, and if she is who you all believe her to be, she will be safer with me in Am’maah than here, even if it is a neutral zone.”
Safiya, still shaken, stiffened with surprise at the mention of prophecies; she hadn’t been told anything about prophecies, but she got the distinct feeling that they were referring to prophecies about her. She sat with her burning palms facing upward upon her lap watching the expressions of each of the others and uneasily waiting for more information. Sekel sat grim-faced and anxious and stared at Mother Maryam who looked more worried than Safiya had ever seen her. Sarai, who had finished squeezing the Noni syrup, was sitting upon the bed with Suri to help the girl to sit up so that she could drink from the tiny glass, exchanged a serious look with Maryam before nodding quietly at her sister and Safiya sensed that they had communicated through eseeri.
“I agree with you: she will be safer in Am’maah than she would be here in Natar, but if she’s been injected with a tracker then the Republic must suspect something. We could be charged with treason against the URP and may have our neutral status taken away from us if we allow her to go with you,” Maryam replied.
The convent had been granted neutral status when the Treaties had been established following the containment of the Pox but it was conditional upon their not interfering with policies of the off-worlders.
“I will not allow that to happen,” Sekel vowed. “The tracker was likely initiated after her visit to the Republic and because her name was flagged in the lineage of the Chief within the URP system. I doubt that the off-worlders know much about Sahyun’s prophecies but we cannot be too careful. The tracker will need to be removed, but we can do that in-flight and I will take full responsibility of removing her from Natar so that you will not be at risk of reprimand in any way.”
Safiya ran her hand over her right bicep curiously; her upper arm had been aching since she’d arrived back from the Republic and she wondered now if it had anything to do with the tracker inside of her. Her mind flashed back to the medic that had bumped her at the flight station and the pinch that she had felt. Maryam met Safiya’s gaze and her eyes were clouded with worry.
She smiled wanly at Safiya and asked, “We will leave this decision up to you, child.”
Safiya was stunned and a little wary. She had wanted to leave the Wards for months but Maryam and Sarai had objected every time. The vibrations in the room were so tense that Safiya was afraid to decide too quickly. She couldn’t understand why they all seemed so nervous. Sure, whoever allowed the grifter to get on-planet was breaking the law but the URP broke the Sovereign Laws all of the time.
“I don’t know, Uma,” Safiya responded after a few silent moments. “Why am I in danger? What would happen if I stay?”
Maryam looked over at Sekel for an explanation.
“Well,” he began and stared directly into Safiya’s eyes. “We have not been able to secure the grifter so the creature may still be on the loose in the area. Also, according to the report that I’ve received, the URP is tracking you because they believe that you are an enemy of the Republic and unfortunately, Republican leadership does not always choose the higher path when dealing with their enemies. If you remain here then the convent may become susceptible to one or more of their unsavory strategies for flushing out their enemies.”
He gave his words a few moments to sink in before continuing.
“I wouldn’t have flown all the way here from Republican City on a whim,” Sekel stated gently, as if he could tell that she was uneasy. “I’ve seen the CEC do this several times before, most recently to the MFDT. Taking you with me will ensure the safety of the convent and that of Natar Village.”
Sarai’s eyes shined with tears and Maryam wiped wetness from the corners of her eyes. Safiya could tell that neither of them wanted her to go, but they were responsible for the other orphans here too, not just Safiya, and she couldn’t put others in harm’s way.
“Ok, I’ll go with you, but for how long?” Safiya asked the Ambassador.
“I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that at this time. I’ll need to speak with my father as soon as possible,” Sekel answered.
Sister Maryam had composed herself and took command as she stood from her chair to question, “Will you be staying with us for a while, Ambassador? At least for the night? There is much that we must attend to around here and Safiya will need to gather some of her belongings for the trip.”
The Ambassador frowned momentarily before reluctantly responding, “Yes, I suppose that staying the night will be ok, if it is not inconvenient for you. Thank you for your hospitality.”
“It is the least that we can do, in gratitude for you keeping our Sofi safe. I’ll arrange for meals to be prepared and sent to you and your men. There are two empty cottages that you all are welcome to stay in. Safiya, can you escort the Ambassador to the cottages?” Maryam asked.
“Yes, of course, sister,” Safiya replied as she also stood.
Sarai had finished tending to Suri and appeared at Safiya’s side with a tube of Cassia balm. She reached for Safiya’s hands and smeared a generous amount upon each palm before kissing her cheek.
“I will be up to see you as soon as Hajar arrives to take over here in the clinic,” Sarai said and patted Safiya’s arm.
Maryam squeezed Safiya’s shoulder affectionately and stated to Safiya and Sarai, “I’ll get Cara to take over Safiya’s chores for the day and prepare the younger girls for day school before gathering a few of the older girls to prepare the trays for the Ambassador and his men.”
Maryam addressed Sekel as she began walking towards the door.
“Do you know off-hand how many men are with you, Ambassador?” she asked.
“Just the flight crew and a security unit. That’s fifteen men including myself,” Sekel replied.
Maryam gestured for the Ambassador and Safiya to follow her from the room.
“I will have extra blankets and pillows brought to the cottages as well since we do not have that many spare beds,” Maryam replied and held the door open for them to pass.
“That is quite all right, we can make due. May I ask, however, if your grounds are protected by a missile shield?” Sekel asked solemnly.
Maryam stiffened but answered, “Yes, we do.”
“Good, then you should have them activated immediately. And keep them activated once we have gone,” Sekel stated.
“But we-,” Maryam objected only to be interrupted by the Ambassador.
“Are a neutral zone, yes, I am aware. It is for your safety only. Hopefully I am incorrect in my suspicions,” Sekel stated.
“Very well, then. I will attend to that immediately. Safiya will show you to the cottages and you can contact your men to inform them that they will need to arrive at the front gate by the rectory of they are to enter once the shields have been activated,” Maryam responded and nodded in good-bye to the both of them before hurrying around the corner of the gallery to ascend the stairwell to the upper floors.
Sekel watched Safiya expectantly once Maryam was gone.
“Sorry. This way, sirrah,” Safiya said and led the way down the remainder of the gallery to the side door that opened upon onto the garden.
The chapel loomed behind them and it was snowing heavily as they crossed the law to the row of colorfully painted cottages a short way across a narrow footpath. A group of girls followed behind one of the younger Reverend Sisters as she led them to the rectory dining room for breakfast and greeted Safiya cheerfully as they passed. It was a comfort to see them, happy about the falling snow and the playful possibilities for the afternoon as Safiya considered what was going to happen to her. An endless collection of questions arose in her mind.
She stopped in front of a small green cottage with an oval door painted in dark purple and opened it while pointing at the neighboring orange cottage to the right.
“These are the two vacant cottages,” she specified and entered the green one.
The sitting room was small and cozy with a stone fireplace along the east wall and a short sofa was positioned in front of it beside a low, round table. Two cushioned armchairs were arranged on either side of the pair of arched, shuttered windows facing the garden and to the left was a small kitchen. Beyond the sitting room was the door that led to the only bedroom and a narrow hallway disappeared into the back of the cottage between the kitchen and the bedroom door.
Safiya walked over to the woodpile beside the fireplace and opened the grate to get a fire started.
“There may be crackers and dried fruit in the kitchen cupboards,” she said as she stacked logs into the fireplace. “But Mother Maryam will not be long with the trays.”
“Ok, thanks,” Sekel replied and stooped beside her to help with the logs.
Safiya searched for a feri lighter on top of the mantelshelf and found one hidden behind an incense bowl. The Ambassador finished stacking the logs and stood up as Safiya ignited them and opened the chimney before sliding the gate closed in front of the flames.
“How are you doing?” he asked her once she was standing. “It’s been quite a morning for you.”
That was an understatement if she’d ever heard one.
“I’m ok, I guess. Lots of questions,” she said.
“Insha’Allah we’ll get some answers for you soon,” he replied.
“Yeah,” she said and rocked back on her heels, unsure of what to say next.
“If it’s any consolation, the-,” he began to say when his wrist communicator buzzed again and caused him to pause. “I’m sorry. One sec.”
He glanced down and pressed the button upon the side of the small, flat screen attached to a leather strap on his wrist and Safiya saw a man’s face appear, blurry and distended, as his voice crackled through the transmission.
“Peace and Blessings to you, Wali. I do not have much time. There are CEC stealth fighters in the air and they are dismantling all communication systems in Hu’saan Province. I need you immediately at the Academy. We have received word of a sneak attack against the Wards and are evacuating Rebecca’s students in the neutral zone. We do not have enough men,” the man said.
Safiya’s heart dropped to her stomach.
A sudden explosion of atomics was heard in the background and although the man’s lips continued moving on the small screen, there was no longer any sound coming through the tiny speakers. Debris fell behind the man’s crouched shoulders and the monitor blackened. The transmission broke off completely and Safiya could sense that something had gone very wrong.
The Ambassador pressed the button again and spoke briskly into the tiny mic.
“This is Ambassador El-Amra to all units. Prepare for flight immediately. Repeat: prepare for flight immediately. To all guard units: return to touch down site. Repeat: abandon posts and return to the site of landing for further instructions. This is an urgent alert,” he said and waited for the units to reply before addressing Safiya.
“I need to speak to the reverend Mother, immediately. Can you take me to her,” he asked directly.
Safiya’s mind was reeling and she suddenly felt as if she was going to pass out but she managed to gather her wits and reply, “Yeah, sure. Come with me.”
Maryam should be in the kitchens preparing the trays. They hurried out of the cottage and across the snow-covered lawn towards the rectory and the smell of baking bread. Safiya’s mind reviewed what the man had said and her heart began to thump loudly within her chest. She felt as if she were 7 years old all over again. They rushed along the gravel path, slick with snow, and past the wide, low windows of the dining hall where most of the nuns and other girls were sitting down to breakfast to the rear door of the main kitchen where she was sure she would find Maryam. As expected, she stood before the countertop, fully robed in her yellow jilbab with her white and yellow khimar covering her hair, slicing bread onto a platter. She looked up with surprise upon hearing the door open and close.
“Greetings, Sister. There’s an emergency. The Ambassador needs to speak with you,” Safiya explained and leaned against the door, feeling dizzy.
The Ambassador began to relate the message that he had received and as he did, her mind suddenly flashed back to a dream that she had had over the summer, a dream about an old woman and a long gold key. Her consciousness then flashed forward into a vision of something burning – a village burning. Safiya glanced around the room frantically, instinctively aware through eseeri that something terrible was happening, but no one was paying any attention to her as the girls prepared platters of food and Maryam listened to Sekel attentively. Before she could put her thoughts to words the blare of the convent’s emergency alarm filled the kitchen. She blinked furiously; shocked by the vision she had just had, but clear enough to know that they were in danger.
A loud blast sounded in the distance and the ground trembled beneath their feet. A scripture from the oral histories came unbidden to her mind:
“When the ground quakes and the stranger plagues the land with violence, The Reckoning approaches and the Time of waiting shall be done.”
Maryam suddenly appeared directly in front of Safiya and grabbed her by the shoulders.
“Safiya! Quickly, child! Inform Meshal and Rinah, they are supervising in the dining room, of what has happened and then hurry to the clinic to alert Sarai. Tell her that I am escorting the Ambassador and his guards to the landing pad and that she must initiate the missile shields. Do you hear me, Sofi?” Maryam demanded, giving her shoulders a shake.
“Yes. Yes, sister,” Safiya responded dazedly but able to put her body in motion to obey.
She hurried towards the door across the room and the dining hall as Sekel and Maryam rushed to the rear door. She offered a prayer for protection. Una had been right. Safiya knew that now. May the Creator protect them all.
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