East (Prologue - from West, page 2 of 3)

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"It's freakin' cold here!" I muttered. The air was still but had begun to penetrate my wool coat.

There was no Taylor to rescue me this time. The reminder left me feeling more desolate than the steppe stretching out before me.

The sound of movement and shuffling reached me, and I turned, letting out a startled gasp.

An army of forms on horseback extended behind my crater towards another set of mountains, as far as I could see. The men were watching me in complete silence that defied the size of the force. No one stirred. I doubted anyone was even breathing. They were as still as statues, until one of them dismounted.

He dropped all sizes of swords and knives on the ground at his feet before approaching me. Removing his helmet, he stopped a good six feet away, his gaze on the distance between us. He seemed to be thinking about whether or not he wanted to get any closer.

I took in his appearance and dress, trying to place where - and when - I was. His face was round, his eyes almond shaped and skin tone pale olive with ruddy cheeks. He wore layers of clothing: thick, bulky wools and fur-lined leathers over loose trousers and a wide belt cinched at his waist.

I'd never seen anyone like him. Of everything about him that intrigued me, his hair was what I fixated on. Beneath the bowl-shaped helmet, he wore two long braids of grey that marked his seasoned age, one on each side of his head. The rest of his head was shaved.

"Father Sky sent you to bless our battle," he spoke.

Father Sky. At no point in college had I studied ancient religions, so placing the reference was beyond me. I had no idea where I was. Somewhere in Asia, maybe. Not China, not India, certainly not Europe or the Middle East. Like many Americans, I could probably find India and China on a map, but I had no clue what countries lay in the vast space between them. It would be just my luck to end up in one of those places.

"The moon guides us with its white path," he continued with a low bow. "It is an honor to be blessed by Father Sky in such a way."

I understood half of that. "Nice to meet you, too," I managed awkwardly.

A ripple of whispers went through the first several lines of horsemen able to hear me. The man before me broke into a wide smile. "We have milk and meat for you, Goddess of the White Path. You will eat with us this night, and tomorrow, you will accompany the silks and slaves to the Great Khan, so that he may witness this honor."

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