In Turkic, it is almost time to move the crops.
A young man - strong in the shoulders, eyes the color of the grain he tends - works his fingers through the soil. It is rich and dark, moist from yesterday's rain. He thinks of his wife as he works, tucking the edges of layered burlap into the heavy wooden framework of his field. She is pregnant - it will be their first child.
She is worried over how large she is getting, while he, smiling and confident, thinks she only grows more beautiful as the baby grows within her. His brothers come back from lunch, and the four of them set about lifting the field. It was an expensive black market enchantment to lighten this frame - one purchased from Valen, though he'd never tell anyone that. He just said it had always been this light, smiling, saying the strength of his father's fathers flowed through them when they lifted. Even so, it is a long, agonizing walk.
They do not stop for almost a day, and as they settle the crops further north, where the blistering heat of summer will help his field grow, a woman stands on the far side of the grain, crimson hair billowing in the wind. The farmer raises a hand to shade his eyes - he's never seen a woman with hair so long before, and she seems so pale from this far away.
He takes a step forward, then stops himself and circles the field. She does not move, not until he is close enough to touch her, then she turns her head, mouth and chin covered in dried blood, one eye black and swollen, hands shaking at her sides.
"Hello." she says. Something about her voice is terribly small and weak. He wants to sweep her up in his arms and hold her, comfort her from whatever violence put her in such a state, but some primal wisdom in him screams that something about her is wrong.
"Hello." he says softly, and takes a step backward. It is difficult, like he is wading through mud. "Are you -...alright?"
"Lencian Tyrus." she says, and the farmer feels his heart stop in his chest. "You have been gone from Valen too long, don't you think?"
"That isn't my name anymore." the man snarls. Outward, he is all rage. Inwardly, he is terrified, calculating escape routes, new identities, anything. But no force of will could make him move. Gods, if he could just move.
Davika screams in her sleep, jolting upright. Nakna slaps a hand over her mouth, pushes her down, begins to scold her at waking the whole of the forest and drawing attention, but she bites his hand, vicious, unrelenting, his silvery-gold blood stinging her tongue. He cries out and pulls away, and she rises, scrambling first on all fours like a beast, then running like a woman, toward the agonizing pull in her skull.
If I could just move.
It pounds in her skull, screams through her bones, threatens to tear her heart out of her chest. She stops waist deep in the river, eyes falling closed, and realizes it is not threatening her body. Something instinctual takes her, she can feel herself reaching, feeling, searching for the screeching desperation that catches her hand, out there somewhere in the grasp of souls, and begs for her help.
"You have my blessing." she whispers, and exhausted from answering her first prayer, slips into unconciousness beneath the river's glassy surface. The water exults in the power that it felt through her, and rather than choking her, it turns into perfection and air in her lungs.
Lencian gasps as if from underwater, the red haired woman a hairs bredth from his throat. He twists and bolts, faster than the wind, faster than he's ever been before, so quickly the ground flees from beneath his feet. His steps pound naught but air, then the tops of trees, the land a blur beneath him.
He laughs, exalting, glowing. The blessing courses through him, and like a bird, he whoops and dives, hurtling toward the earth. Air stings his eyes. In his mind, wings spread, and he catches himself, feet just barely touching the surface of the river as he continues running. He heads further into Turkic - he heads home.
The exaltation bleeds off, he sinks lower to the ground, then touches it. He slows, breathless, spent, before the edge of the village he had called home.
Smoke and fire, smoldering wood and the sickly sweet stench of burning flesh and grain. He runs while he still knows the blessing is his, a flash amidst masked soldiers, crashes through the smoldering door of his home. He stumbles, catches himself, stares at the mangled corpse of his wife and drops to his knees to vomit across the floor.
"Lencian Tyrus," says the second voice to know his name today. "How did I know I would find you here."
He is gone again, a flash of movement and rage. The voice - a man, a captain bred and trained to capture the fleeing Mask, sucks in a shaking, wet gasp. He rips the knife from his throat and twists - but there is no sign of his prey, no satisfying vision of the man's back to satisfy him as he bleeds out on the floor.
His cheek strikes hard wood, vision blurring, and the last thing he sees is the pregnant woman he murdered in the name of Meren Calus.
As he dies, he is the first Valenian loyalist to realize who his Emperor really is.