Chapter Twenty-Two (Twilight of the Gods)

Previously: Soshay and Setch met and held a ritual to heal the rift between their gods. Both women believe that their gods must work together to defeat the Unnamed God. Chaos reigns within the Temple of Dawn, including a priestesses murdered for the benefit of the Unnamed God.

Chapter 22

In the days after her meeting with Setch, Soshay felt a great sense of peace.  She knew that she and the priestess Setch had begun something; she believed that their ritual had moved the gods to reconcile, at least long enough to defeat the Corrupter.  With the alliance completed, the restlessness that had plagued her for weeks was gone.  Even her fears that Mitlan would turn against her, ceased to nag at her thoughts.  She was Tez’s chosen and he would protect her.

She only had a few days of confinement left, and then she would complete her initiation.  Even though all of her visitors had ceased coming, Soshay no longer felt so alone.  She and Setch had begun a secret correspondence, with Pelo acting as their messenger.  Setch wrote to Soshay almost daily.  Sometimes only a brief note, letting her know that all was still not well in the Temple of Dawn.  Other days, Setch wrote long and meandering letters, filled with personal thoughts and fears and hopes.  Setch regularly included brief mentions of the state of affairs in the City of the Jungle as well, who had risen to power and what new laws came from the City of the Lake.

Soshay had never realized how complex the relationships between the food producers and the politicians were.  She read and studied these letters, wanting to understand the power structure of the empire, realizing for the first time that she needed to understand these relationships.

But even more important than the lessons in the letters, for Soshay, these letters reconnected her to the world outside the temple, and gave her a friend.  Someone that she too could share her fears with.  She had already hinted to Setch about her fears regarding her initiation. Soshay understood Tez’s message. He would come to her at her initiation, but he would possess Keron.  While Soshay was not well-versed in what took place in the bed chamber, she knew that it led to children. A pregnancy, even if she truthfully claimed the child to be Tez’s, would likely destroy the tenuous place she had made for herself in the temple. Soshay had admitted her fears to Setch, and asked Setch to share Zel’s mysteries with her and if she could not, to at least Zel’s potions.

Soshay finished the letter and blew impatiently on the page, willing the ink to dry.  She had intended to share her visions with Setch, but her dreams had remained her own in these last few days.  It is the first respite I have had from my visions in years, she realized.  And while she relished her days and nights being free of visions of destruction, blood, and fire, the loss of the visions filled her vague dread.  She had even tried to force a vision the previous night, but had had no success.  She glanced down at the letter to Setch and included a brief note about her own lack of visions.

She folded and sealed the letter and set it on her dinner tray for Pelo.  He was now the only servant to bring her food.  She appreciated getting to see him more often, but when she questioned the change, he remained stubbornly silent.  Worse, she found he was unwilling to share with her anything other than the most trivial of temple gossip. He would say nothing of Neldo’s scheming or of Tenoch. Of Mitlan he would only say that the high priest was often closeted away with Keron. But what she was to make of that, Soshay was uncertain.  She knew that Keron would try to protect her, but she still worried that his defense of her would only enflame the rumors of their love affair.

She sat on her bed forced herself to practice her meditations, ignoring the growing concerns about her lack of visions.

***

Keron had spent the last few days locked in his chamber reading some of the oldest codices in the temple.  Ohili had surprised him by finding some of the best texts on the gift of diplomacy.  Keron liked the far-seer, but also knew that the man’s grasp of the Cetza written language was weak. Nevertheless, Ohili had found at least twenty codices that spoke of the gift.  The records were varied in describing the gift’s power and use, but one aspect that they all agreed upon, was there was only one method to override the compulsion a speaker could create. All the codices mentioned Zel’s tears, but none explained what her tears were.  So he sent Ohili back to the records room to search further.

He and Mitlan had already reviewed all of the prophecies in Soshay’s codex, and found that some matched and some did not.  The scribes present at the altered prophecies, all reported that Tenoch had witnessed those prophecies, and all denied changing the words.  Most could only vaguely recall the sessions, if they could remember them at all.  Mitlan accepted this as proof of Tenoch’s guilt. But Keron wondered if it was enough.  How many scribes forgot the words they had written, weeks and months later?  How many truly paid attention to the words the oracles spoke? Most simple wrote without thought.

Keron was jerked from his reverie by Mitlan entering his chamber.  From a glance Keron knew that Mitlan was no longer angry, but he was afraid.  “Mitlan, what is it?”

The high priest sat heavily in one of the empty chairs, his gaze flitting over the codices piled in front of Keron.  “Soshay’s initiation draws nearer, and it seems that my oracles no longer speak.”

Keron frowned.  It was part of his duty to tend to the oracles of the temple.  None of them had come to him reporting any problems, but he had been so busy with his research.  He frowned, realizing that since the prophecy he had given for Mitlan, he too had had no visions.  “I should have been informed of this,” he said still frowning, “Why was I not told?”

Mitlan gave him a tired smile, “Your under priest reported it to me, and came very near to chastising me for overworking you.”

Keron shook his head, but was glad of Mitlan’s smile.  Telmax at the best of times was irreverent and almost always neglectful of respecting those priests who ranked higher than himself.  At least Mitlan does not seem angry about Telmax’s impertinence, nor does he seem to remember that Telmax was at the heart of a scandal in the City of the Lake.  “I apologize for Telmax’s ways.”  Keron said with a rueful smile, “He is a good priest, but I think he takes my command for honesty to the extreme.”

Mitlan waved away the apology.  “He is a good man to have around you.  His honesty is bitter, but much better than the sweetly told lies of my own in the City of the Lake.”  Mitlan glanced at the books again, “But we must speak of more important matters than an unruly young priest.”

Keron nodded and waited for Mitlan to speak.  He noticed that while Mitlan still wore the skull makeup of his office, the lines were smudged and only served to highlight the exhaustion on his face.

“I intend to accuse Tenoch of using witchcraft.”

The words were blunt, but Keron could not help but gape at Mitlan.  The charges would make no sense, and worse they had no evidence of witchcraft.  Worse, Keron knew that the Temple of Twilight had no time for the lengthy trial such an accusation would bring.  Even with no visions, from Telmax’s reports he knew that time to defeat the Unnamed God was growing short. Being forced to wait for Soshay’s initiation was challenging enough. “Witchcraft?” He managed to stutter.

Mitlan dragged his hands through his hair, “It is a lie, I know.  But I cannot openly accuse him of using the gift of diplomacy.” He cast a dark glance at Keron and Keron remembered Mitlan’s fears that he too had been corrupted by Tenoch’s gift.

Keron knew the ramifications of the entire temple knowing the truth could be catastrophic.  Mitlan’s dissenters would use it as a reason to elect a new high priest, perhaps someone the council could better control. Certainly someone who shared their politics, as the high priest held the Imperator’s ear. But if word of Mitlan’s possible corruption reached his ears, and there was no way to prevent that gossip, the temple would lose his favor. He did not like the lie, but he understood why he must support it. “How will you prove witchcraft that does not exist?”

Mitlan grimaced, “By using witchcraft myself.”  He held up his hand to stay Keron’s questions. “I have met with the High Priestess of Tzi, and while I did not intend to tell her the truth, she already knew.”  He shook his head and the charms in his hair clacked softly, “Somehow she and her witches already know what Tenoch is up to. She is willing to aid us, and it will appear to the entire temple that Tenoch seeks to use witchcraft to harm Soshay.”

Keron felt himself grow pale.  He had never adopted the fervent hatred of magic that many servants of Twilight did, and his hand strayed to the charmed necklace at this throat, the stone skull that prevented a far-seer from spying on his actions. But to enlist the aid of the Witch-Priests within the Temple of Twilight, seemed to be crossing a line.  “What will she do?”  Keron asked, and knew that he feared the answer.

Mitlan’s face grew hard, and Keron was reminded again of the power the man wielded.  He had not become High Priest through luck or good fortune.  Mitlan had won the position, no, Keron told himself, Mitlan fought for the position.  He used his own innate charisma, his force of personality to sway all to his cause.  And, Keron reminded himself, he used me and my gift.

Mitlan held up a small blue stone stung on a simple cord.  “First, she has given me the means to protect myself from Tenoch’s witchery.”

Keron noticed that Mitlan had stopped calling it a gift, and he knew that Mitlan was willing to lie even to himself to have his way.  The small blue stone that swung from its cord was vaguely tear shaped, and Keron found himself naming it unbidden, “Zel’s tear.”

Mitlan nodded, “That is what high priestess Deoli called it.” He looked at it with distaste, but he placed the stone around his neck and drew forth a small vial. “Then there is this potion.” He held up a stone vial. “It will not harm him, but when he seeks to disrupt Soshay’s initiation, it will cause him to blaze with witchlight.”

Keron frowned, not understanding how this would help them at all, and he questioned whether this potion would work. “I don’t understand Mitlan. Neither of us has found any test for this,” he paused considering his words, “this gift that Tenoch holds.  How will this potion prove anything?”

Mitlan clasped the vial in his hand.  “The potion is little more than theatrics.  An entertaining trick crafted by the witches. Anyone who drank the potion would glow with the same light.”  His mouth curved into a cold smile, “It takes an hour to work, and based on your vision, that is when Tenoch will interrupt the ceremony.” Mitlan leaned forward, “He will accuse Soshay of whatever vileness he intends, but he will burn with unholy fire, and I will claim it is Tez’s denunciation.” He licked his lips, “I had hoped to learn how your little oracle called forth lightening, to be rid of him instantly, but the witches hold no such power. And your oracle cannot say how she performed that trick.”

Keron sat frozen.  He had seen Mitlan angry before; he remembered the accusations at the Council to end the Century, now so many years past.  But that anger he believed had been caused by Tenoch’s gift not Mitlan himself. This anger was so cold, so calculating, that Keron found himself unsettled as he wondered if he had ever known this man at all. Had Mitlan been Tenoch’s puppet for so long? “So, you would have him killed?”  He asked his voice low.

Mitlan continued to wear his cold smile, “The penalty for witchcraft within the Temple of Twilight is death, Keron.  And it is no less than he deserves.  It is what he seeks for your little oracle.”

Keron could not deny that.  Based on the reports from Pelo and the other slaves, Neldo had gone to visit the witch Anacoana more than once.  Pelo had reported that he heard Neldo ask for a potion to mimic witchery.  Yes, Keron had to admit to himself, Tenoch wanted Soshay dead, but was it Tez’s will that Tenoch should die in her place, or was this Mitlan’s will?  Keron forced himself to nod in agreement, even though he did not agree.  Without his visions, he no longer knew Tez’s will, and this cold vengeance in Mitlan seemed at odds with Tez’s teachings.  Keron felt, or thought he felt, a ghostly touch on his shoulder.

“I do not know what abominations Tenoch has brought into my temple that has silenced the oracles, but you will try to see for me know. Maybe more liuqui or sun opener will help you see.”

Keron knew this was a command from his high priest, and not a request from his friend Mitlan.  He did not bother to explain that he had tried both, and even then had failed to have a vision.  He simply rose from his seat and went to his cupboard. As he kept a bottle of liuqui in his quarters, he began preparing it when Telmax entered.

The under-priest noted Keron’s preparations, but remained, for once, silent.  He remained standing near the door.

“Telmax,” Mitlan commanded, “You may act as scribe,” he said with a glance at Keron, “That is if our High Oracle can defeat the dark magics Tenoch is wielding.”

Telmax collected paper and ink, and raised an eyebrow at Keron.

Keron wondered what Telmax would make of Mitlan’s plans.  He continued preparing the liuqui, noting that his own personal supply was getting low.  He would have to refill the bottle from the temple stores soon.  Once the bowl was prepared he turned back to Mitlan.

“I will take a larger amount than usual; maybe it will counter whatever is preventing the other oracles from seeing.”  He said and swallowed the bitter potion. He once again wondered if the Unnamed One was preventing the oracles from seeing. He would have to discuss it with Telmax and Ohili once Mitlan was satisfied.

Keron pushed all of the thoughts from his mind, and focused on his breathing.  He felt the room shift and he saw.

Keron briefly saw the plaza between the temples.  He felt the bulk of the Temple of Twilight behind him.  He glanced back and saw the temple engulfed in lightening.  The jagged blue lines crawled over the stone, appearing to move up and down the stairs.  Keron knew that he was speaking, relating everything he saw to Mitlan and Telmax.  An image of the Temple of Dawn flashed before his eyes, yet the stone ziggurat stood in ruins.  The tumbled stones were stained with blood, and the bodies of the priestesses were strewn in front of it.  A great spider clambered from the temple. Its black body gleamed and instead of the dual red triangles of the huancan on its abdomen it bore the glyphs for the High Priestess, Este’s name.  The spider towered over the plaza and the figure of a woman cowered before it.  Keron recognized the priestess Setch and watched the spider devour her.    

The vision shifted and Keron saw Mitlan, still shrouded in mist.

Keron pictured the Temple of Twilight, and saw the glyphs for Ohili flare brightly a moment, and saw the spear and serpent of the Unnamed One appear over the temple, and the temple was no more.

He came to his senses, looking first to Telmax and seeing his own fear echoed in his under priest’s face. If Setch died, what would happen to Zel?  Telmax pressed a cup of water into Keron’s hands.  “Did you record the vision?”

Telmax nodded sharply. Keron had already told him that Tez did not want Mitlan to know of the Unnamed One, and Keron could read the concern in his eyes.

Keron turned to Mitlan, “Are you finished with my under priest, I would like to send him to get me some food.” His voice was hoarse.

Mitlan nodded, “Yes, go Telmax.  Thank you.”

Keron shot Telmax a look, hoping the under-priest would understand that he was to go and warn Setch.

“What does it mean?”  Mitlan asked, “What is Este doing, and what has she to do with us?”

Keron blinked at him, and realized that because Mitlan knew nothing, he would assume that Este, not the Unnamed God, was the threat.

“I don’t know, at least not for certain.”  Keron said slowly.  “There have been rumors of strange rites being conducted in the Temple of Dawn, and many of their priestesses leave the temple and do not return.”  Keron rubbed at his temples.  The liuqui still sang in his blood, and he was afraid he would say too much.

Mitlan gave him an appraising look.  And whether it was the liuqui, or another vision, Keron saw the face of Tez reflected in the High Priest. For a heartbeat, the skull paint became a skull in truth and golden eyed gazed out of Mitlan’s face.

Mitlan spoke, and the moment ended.  “You have finally begun to take an interest in something beyond the Temple of Twilight.”

Keron nodded slowly, almost wishing he had truly sent Telmax for food.  “Yes, I have been trying to.  Telmax has impressed upon me the importance of this knowledge.”

Mitlan continued to gaze at Keron.  “So, tell me what does this vision mean?”

Keron considered what he had seen.  “The lightening that crawled over the temple, Tez will manifest.”  Keron said slowly.  He stifled a shiver, wondering what the Lord of Death manifesting portended.  “As for the rest, it seems the Temple of Dawn is in flux.  Este seeks to destroy a rival.” Keron tried to shrug of the vision as inconsequential.  But Mitlan raised an eyebrow.

“She seems intent on more than that.  Zel is rarely portrayed as a spider, but it is an ancient avatar for Her.”  Mitlan looked thoughtful, “Maybe there is a connection between this change in Her high priestess, and the vision with the man’s laughter?”

Keron forced his expression to remain neutral, his mind filling again with the image of Mitlan cloaked in mists.  “I do not know.”  Keron offered.

Mitlan’s eyes glinted in the lights, “She would be happy to know of troubles in Her Brother’s temple.  Zel is no friend to Tez.”

Keron hid his silence behind another sip of water.

“It seemed that you had little trouble having a vision.”  Mitlan said.

Keron considered this, if it was simply the Unnamed One, He should have prevented the vision, but He did not even appear.  Keron frowned, his eyes drifting to his jar of liuqui.  “Check the liuqui in the temple.”

Mitlan blinked at him, “What?”

“The liuqui, if someone has tampered with it or worse replaced it with something else that could explain the loss of visions.”  Keron picked up his clay jar, “I always keep a jar from the last mixing here.”  He tilted the jar toward Mitlan, “It is almost empty.  The temple stores should be at most half full.”

Mitlan narrowed his eyes, “Tenoch is responsible for this too.”  He rose quickly, “It would suit his purpose if we knew nothing of his plans, and the only way to prevent that is to prevent all of the oracles from seeing anything.”  He strode to the door, “I will check the stores, but I cannot replace then.  Not yet, it would warn Tenoch.”  He paused, “Will this replacement, hurt the oracles?”

Keron shook his head, “It is likely a common potion used to prevent visions from coming to an oracle.” Keron rose slowly, his head swimming with the movement.  “I keep some here, for novices overwhelmed with visions. I have not needed it for years.” He began hunting through his stores for the small bottle.  He found the bottle and gave it to Mitlan.

The high priest opened the bottle and looked at the potion. “Why must so many potions look similar?”

“Worse, this one tastes similar too.”  Keron said.  “I doubt anyone would notice the difference.” He sat heavily back down. “Few even know such a potion exists.” He wanted Mitlan to go.  He wanted Telmax to actually bring him food; even though he knew warning Setch was more important.  He had not told Mitlan of the urgency of the vision.  The Unnamed One was fast gaining strength, and Keron feared that the time to destroy Him was now not later. Nothing could delay Soshay’s initiation.

He considered all of the visions again, and considered telling Mitlan.  If he knew the truth, then I could pass the burden to him, Keron thought.  He was struck be another vision, it lasted no longer than an eye blink, but Keron saw. The mists parted around the high priest, and Keron saw Mitlan’s name fade and be replaced by Tenoch’s name. He shook free of the vision.  Mitlan had been too engrossed in examining the potion to notice.

I cannot tell him, Keron realized.  It will be his death and Tenoch’s victory.  Keron raised his eyes to the jaguar mosaic on the walls; I follow your will, Lord of Death, but please help me.  This burden is a heavy one.  He prayed silently.

Mitlan finally rose taking the potion.  “I will keep this, and I will discreetly have the supplies of liuqui checked.”  Mitlan glanced down at Keron. “That vision seems to have exhausted you.”

Keron shrugged, “Some do, my friend.”

Mitlan looked concerned, “Rest awhile.  I can deal with the rest of my plans.  Only, remember that during Soshay’s initiation, you must support all that I say.”

Keron nodded weakly. Mitlan’s plan had a good chance of success.  He knew that the theatrics of it all would convince the priests. But what worried Keron was what Mitlan intended to do with Tenoch after the accusation was made. The laws of the temple demanded a trial, and that process would put Mitlan’s plans at risk. He has only one stone to protect himself from the effects of Tenoch’s voice, how will he prevent the rest of the council from being swayed?

Mitlan gave a cold smile, “At her initiation, Tenoch’s plans will be at an end.  There will be no need for a trial.”

Keron stared at Mitlan, wondering for a moment if the High Priest could read his thoughts.  “What do you intend?”

Mitlan rested his hand on his ritual dagger.  “He will be given to Tez in sacrifice.  And mayhap the blood power raised will give the little oracle a vision that will uncover all that goes on within the Temple of Dawn.”

Keron said nothing.  He knew that he could not protest Tenoch’s death, and he found that he did not want to. Tenoch placed the entire temple at risk, and his schemes had put Soshay at risk.  Keron knew the second priest would have gladly allowed Soshay to die in his place.  Still, a sacrifice that was offered on lies and an unwilling one… that was something that troubled him.

Mitlan took his leave, and Keron was left alone.  It did not take long for Pelo to enter, without knocking, Keron noticed.  But the boy carried a tray of food.

Pelo set the food down, “Telmax told me to bring you a tray, High Oracle.”  The boy said. “He told me to wait until the high priest left.”

Keron smiled; of course Telmax knew that Mitlan would question why Telmax himself had not brought the tray.  “Thank you, Pelo.”  Keron said and began to eat.  He tore a piece of flat bread and chewed thoughtfully.  Pelo waited patiently.

He finished the bread, “Pelo, can you find Ohili and send him to me?”

Pelo tried to hide his fear, “The witch-lord?”

Keron stifled a sigh, “Yes, the witch-lord.”

Pelo nodded stiffly.  “I will send him to you in haste.”

Keron watched the boy go, and waited for Ohili.  It was time that he and the witch had a longer talk about the Unnamed One.  He had suspected that Ohili knew more about this Unnamed God than he had said, and Keron had grown tired of secrets.         

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