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There were voices outside.

Atisha's head seemed impossibly heavy as she lifted it from the arm of the throne. For a long moment, her vision swam before her eyes finally managed to focus on the familiar shadowed murals and carvings of the walls. How long had it been since she had last looked at things with her physical eyes rather than the calm mental vision of meditation? Too long, perhaps, but there was no helping that now.

The voices continued.

"Naga," she whispered, her voice a faint croak through dry lips. She frowned and cleared her throat. "Naga," she tried again, with slightly more success, and was rewarded with the creak of the doors.

"Your Holiness?" Naga asked. Backlit by the burning sun of the desert outside, he was a dark and indistinct figure, his expression impossible to read. But his tone had an edge of concern to it.

Atisha managed what she hoped was a passable smile. "What's going on out there, Naga?"

"There... is a visitor, Your Holiness."

A visitor. A rare thing indeed, in these days of maps and motorized transportation. Atisha slowly and laboriously pulled herself up into a sitting position. She was horrified to find that such a small effort left her nearly breathless and leaning against the back of the throne for support. "Well, let them in, then."

Naga hesitated. "Your Holiness--"

"All travelers are welcome in Dhalashar, Naga," she reminded him gently, but firmly.

"... as you wish," Naga said at last, bowing low.

His silhouette vanished, only to return a moment later with another figure in tow. Naga bowed a second time, then closed the door, leaving Atisha within the darkness with her guest.

The visitor was dressed strangely: brightly-patterned robes and painted markings stood out starkly against pale skin. He carried with him a large box, which he set to the side before kneeling in front of her throne and bowing low to the ground.

"You are a long way from home indeed," Atisha said softly. She drew back her veil from her face, her arms weak and stiff.

"All travelers... lose their way sometimes," the visitor murmured, his painted lips curving into a sharp smile. "And so... they find their way to Dhalashar."

Atisha acknowledged his statement with a slight inclination of her head. "And yet, it is not common for a foreign god to arrive here unintentionally."

"A god?" The visitor laughed. "My lady, I am... but an ordinary medicine seller."

"I'm afraid I have no use for medicine." Atisha muffled a laugh that quickly turned into a wracking cough into her veil. At the visitor's questioning look, she gave a wry smile, continuing, "There is no cure for my illness."

A long-nailed hand strayed into a drawer of the box at the visitor's side. "I sell... many medicines, my lady. Who knows...?" An incense burner, a jade pot, a bundle of spiky-stemed herbs, and a tiny crystal vial were all withdrawn from the drawer and placed in front of his knees in turn. "A sickness of the heart... a memory festering as painfully as a cancer. Perhaps... it should be excised?" The last item the visitor revealed was a long-handled knife carved from a single piece of obsidian. He offered it up for her perusal.

When Atisha's fingers touched the blade, images flashed through her head one after another. A savage woman dressed in furs, chanting as she drew the knife over a feverish man's skin, leaving a wide swath of crimson in its wake. A white-robed priest slitting a goat's throat as it lay twitching on an altar. A man murdering his wife. After each scene, there was a profound sense of well-being, the knife slicing ruthlessly through the troubles of those involved.

Not once did she see the familiar sight of Yahati's too-pale face, smiling even as life left him.

"No," she said quietly, handing the knife back to the visitor. "No, I'm sorry. I won't."

"Then... you will die." There was no emotion in the visitor's voice, simply a flat statement of fact.

She let out a shaky breath. Her limbs suddenly felt light, as though everything that had been weighing them down had suddenly vanished. "Yes. I think that's probably true."

"Ahhh," the visitor said. He placed his medicines back into his box, and bowed low once again. There was no sound of footsteps as he left, only the brief, blinding light of the world outside the throne room when he opened the door.

Atisha looked up at the constellations above her head, and smiled.