Danasei Naliano

"It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It just might change your life."

A robed woman kneels on the worn marble steps leading up to the
Temple of Illumination. Rag in hand, and a bucket of water nearby, she scrubs
half-heartedly at them for a moment before pausing to wipe the sweat from her
brow. Expression sullen, she returns to scrubbing, only to have her hair fall
in front of her eyes. Pushing it back behind her ears, she takes her time in
adjusting the daisy that is weaved within her dark locks. All of this gives
her another excuse to steal a respite from her work. She takes this
opportunity to turn to her gaze to the boy standing idly next to her. "What is
even the point? They're just gonna need to be scrubbed again tomorrow."

The boy is aged no more than six or seven years and is a mirror image of the
woman. His dark hair is messy and tangled. Luminous amber eyes peer up at the
woman. He seems to consider the question. After taking a good look at the
freshly scrubbed steps he finally answers, "But you made it look better than
everything else around here."

The woman chuckles and nods in agreement. She looks out on the dusty
street that surrounds the temple. It's summer in the Steps. The air is hot and
uncomfortable. A warm, unrefreshing breeze wafts in periodically, bringing
with it the scent of filth and rubbish. She signs and returns to her
scrubbing. Her work does not last long however, as another figure emerges from
inside the temple. With a startled expression the woman jumps to her feet.
"Oh, priestess! Hello." Smoothing her robe anxiously, she watches the newcomer.

The priestess regards the woman coolly but doesn't respond. She instead
turns her attention to the boy. "And how are you today, child?" He stares back at
her, but doesn't immediately respond. The priestess tilts her head to the side
and tries again, speaking more slowly, "And. How. Are. You. Today?" She
watches the boy's face expectantly.

After a great deal of shifting and squirming (and a subtle nudge from the
woman next to him), he is finally prodded to an answer. "Good?" The quiet
word comes out more a question than a response, and it is all he provides. The
priestess sighs in exasperation and continues passed them. She does not look
back as she makes her way down the steps and onto the street. The sun hangs
low in the sky. It's time to head home.

The woman stashes the rag and bucket within the temple. Reemerging, she
takes a hold of the boy's hand. An irritated expression wrinkles her pretty features,
"Let's get outta here. I'm not sure how much longer I can stand this. I'm just
not cut out for this kind of work." They walk down the street and take a turn
at a nearby corner. They keep a brisk pace as they traverse the overgrown path
they find themselves on. Being away from the temple seems to improve the
woman's mood. She looks down at the boy, grins, and squeezes his hand, "And
you, kiddo, you need to be quicker. You're not gonna get the right attention
if you're so quiet. That priestess thinks you're none too bright." The boy
shrugs silently in response. They continue walking. They're nearly home.

"Look what we got here, boys."

The woman and the boy stop short. Both appear startled. A man has
appeared in front of them. His expression is ugly. Three more men skulk behind
him, watching from the ever increasing shadows cast by the setting sun. The man
takes a step forward, "You've been found. And it's about damn time. What's it
been now? Three years?"

The woman stares blankly back at him, "Wha? You must have me mistaken for
someone else." She continues in a strained voice, "I have no idea what you're
talking about."

The man snorts, "Oh, I recognize that face. Playing dumb and pretty ain't
gonna get you out of this one." He smirks, contenting himself to just stare at
her for some time. The woman's face remains impassive. Growing impatient, he
points an accusatory finger at her and spits, "You and your man, you screwed
us over big time. You think the boss would forget?" He shakes his head and
emits an exaggerated sigh. He turns his attention to the boy. "That's the
brat, huh?" His tone turns mocking. "Your man leave you alone to raise him
yourself? What a swell guy." His next words are drawn out, and he appears to
relish them, "Maybe you won't feel so bad about this next bit of news, then.
Maybe you'll even thank us. He's dead."

The woman's face contorts into an expression of rage, but only for a moment.
She takes a breath. Calmly, she asks, "What did you just say?"

"He's dead. Real dead. We found him first. He wasn't quite as slippery as you
have been." A smug smile accompanies the man's words. "Now it's your turn."
He begins moving forward again. His hand moves towards his sheath.

The woman holds up a finger, "Just a moment. Please. With my child."

The man stops and shrugs, "Yeah. Sure. Whatever. We're all decent folk here,
right?" One of the men behind him snickers.

The woman turns towards the boy. She bites her lip. "I am so sorry." Eyes
brimming with tears, she stoops to place a kiss on his forehead. He stares
back at her with a face full of fear and confusion. Taking him by the
shoulders she whispers, "Be brave for me. Be good for me." Slowly,
reluctantly, she pulls herself away. She turns to face the men. "But now, you
must run. GO."

The boy bolts off. As he reaches the end of the path he stops and turns to
watch the unfolding scene. The man has closed the space between himself and
the woman. Sneering, he draws a blade and raises it. The boy notices a subtle
movement from the woman; a small bulge is snaking down inside the sleeve of
her robe. The man is oblivious. Within a moment a knife has slid neatly into
her hand. As quickly as it appears, it vanishes into the throat of the man.
His expression is one of shock. Clutching at his neck, he sinks to the ground.
The boy crows happily, but his joy is short lived. The other men, momentarily
taken off guard, have recovered. With angry shouts they lunge at the woman.
The glint of metal flashes. The woman reels back, blood flowing freely from
several wounds. They do not let up. The boy turns and runs. This time he does
not look back.

Hidden behind the assortment of dilapidated and precariously leaning buildings
that make up the skyline of the Steps, the sun rises. The boy peeks cautiously
out from the cramped space between two such buildings. He dashes out onto the
overgrown path and scoops an object up off the ground. With one last wary look
around, he darts away, returning to the narrow space between the buildings.
Once safe, the boy opens his hand and reveals the prize. Cupped tenderly
within his palm is a yellow daisy. Dried blood covers the petals. Clutching
the flower to his chest, the boy moves out into the growing crowd. Within
moments he is gone from sight.

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