The sthenite shrieked again at the sight of Zack, standing over the corpses.
“This isn’t,” Zack started, honestly not sure where he was going with it. He looked at the two sthenites on the ground, and at the scorch marks that were left behind by their assailant.
“Shyese tzanara Dojurbu Hansha!” he said again, holding his hands up in what he hoped was an acceptable sign of non-aggression. The sthenite slithered backward, a visual that Zack hadn’t been prepared to see. It tilted its head like a nervous bird.
“Shyese tzanara,” Zack said, slowly pointing to the two corpses just as the overseer had said, “Dojurbu Hansha.”
He thought about the situation. Was he actually pointing at the first dead sthenite that he had seen when he pointed at Dojurbu? Or the sthenite that he hoped was Dojurbu?
Another Sthenite rounded the ledge, and began climbing up the rocky path. Zack saw the red scales and cobra-like hood that he’d come to recognize as common among the physical laborers and guards. The new sthenite saw an alien in a green trench coat and horrible hat standing where and how a murderer might stand. The guard hissed and jumped at Zack, baring its fangs. Zack tried to dodge, but was too slow to avoid the lightning-fast strike.
Zack coughed and sat up, feeling a sense of overwhelming dread.
“Zack, I need to talk to you.”
He blinked. The light was dim. He was lying on a small bed made from woven reeds. Was he in a hut? Someone was sitting next to him.
“Zack, how did you know Dojurbu and Hansha’s names?”
“How… the strange… thing that managed the trial, she told me what their names would be.”
Chala didn’t answer. Zack’s eyes were starting to adjust. It was definitely her.
“She told me that those would be the names of the first two sthenites I saw when I left the cave. I didn’t know that they’d be… I really don’t know why all this is happening. Someone followed me into the trial pit.”
“Not possible. The location of the exit is a secret to those who haven’t finished the trial.”
“She has a way of finding me. She’s an alien.”
“So are you. So am I.”
“No, like… not a sthenite and not a human. She’s a shangmere, and she’s got a way of tracking me.”
“She says that it tracks Virellium Force Energy, and anyone who’s come in contact with it.”
Chala stood and walked to a wall. Zack dimly registered the image of her leaning against it, but she was right at the edge of his vision.
“The phrase you said to the one who found you with the bodies? It saved your life. She saved your life, I mean. She told the guard what you said, and stopped him during the venom injection. She said that you knew the names and that it was important.”
“That’s a relief.”
“There was a third murder,” she said. Zack tensed and stood, ignoring the sudden headache that standing caused after his venom injection.
“A third murder?”
“Someone else was killed in the same manner as Dojurbu and Hansha. She was killed in front of my hut in a different village. A messenger arrived to report it.”
“Do they think I killed her as well?”
“She died while you were in the trial pit. It lends some credence to the mystery surrounding your appearance outside the trial pit, a place you shouldn’t have found until much later.”
“The attacker in the trial pit, she wants to kill me.”
“And others as well, it seems. All while trying to find you.”
“That doesn’t make sense, though,” said Zack. “Why would she track me to your home in a different village?”
“Because of my forge,” she said, just as Zack’s eyes finished adjusting. “It’s where I keep all of my supplies. Everything I work on. And, unfortunately, where I’ve hidden a substantial amount of Virellium.”