Talla's Temple Ch. 23byxtorch©
Did she need to strip off? Did women do that at night? Probably not. She didn't even need a blanket, really. She could just take a few steps off the path – just over here behind this tree – and lie down in the darkness. No one would even know that she was there.
Now, back to work.
She closed her eyes, slowed her breathing, and concentrated on Zhair'lo. Was he calm, too? Was he being Served? Talla was certain that she would be able to tell if he were in a moment of passion. There was nothing she could do but reach out with her mind and start pulling at those tenuous strands, trying moment by moment to pull him closer.
People were walking on the path. Talla tried to ignore them and whatever muttering they were doing, but it was hard. In the Hall, the number of voices had the effect of drowning out the intelligibility of any particular conversation. Here, where only one voice spoke at a time, the words could be heard with almost perfect clarity.
"He's damaged, you think?" one of them asked.
The voice sounded familiar. Who was it?
"We're giving him a day off," another softer voice said noncommittally.
"But do you think he's damaged?" the first voice repeated.
Atreya. It was Atreya. Who were they talking about? Who was damaged? Talla felt a sinking feeling in her stomach.
"Hard to say," the second woman answered.
They had stopped walking and were standing on the path, finishing their conversation in what they thought was the privacy of the darkened Courtyard.
"There are only four Sealed Virgins left," the second voice said, "and we don't have to release him for four days. Between him and Zo'kar, we can afford to give them an extra day to recuperate."
Talla inhaled, trying not to gasp as the women paused for a moment. They were talking about Zhair'lo. They were hurting him, just as she'd feared. She had to warn him as soon as she could. In her haste, she yanked at the frail, silken ties that held her mind to Zhair'lo's.
She yanked too hard and, with a painful tearing in her mind, found herself completely disconnected. All that work trying to retrieve her link with him – all gone in a moment of impatience. She would cry if she could afford to make a noise.
"I hope we're not hurting him with all these doubles," Atreya said quietly.
The other woman didn't answer. In another moment, there were footsteps again, moving away towards the Hall.
Her link was destroyed. She couldn't sense Zhair'lo at all anymore, and just at the worst possible moment when she desperately needed to warn him. There was nothing else she could do but wait for the next heat bell and run to meet him just as they'd planned. It would be dangerous, but if she could make sure not to be followed, it would be alright.
His only hope would be to run away to somewhere outside the limits of the city.
Did he know how to live on his own? She felt certain that he must. He'd been a baker, a roofer, a farmer and all sorts of other things. She remembered that from the random memory dump that she'd received the last time they'd meshed. He had skills and he could survive. He would have to, because they were far too reckless with his life here.