Chapter Twenty-Five (Twilight of the Gods)

Previously, Setch, exiled from the Temple of Dawn, has found sanctuary in the Temple of Midnight. She learns of a long history of the Temple of Midnight and Temple of Dawn working together.  

Chapter 25

            Soshay felt the pressure of the push by the High Priestess and found herself outside of the Temple of Midnight.  She frowned, how did she see me? How did she push me out?  Soshay felt a presence at her back, and turned to see the Unnamed One in the distance.  She cringed, willing herself back to her body.

She opened her eyes, and everything hurt. Ohili was right, she thought.  Her eyes refused to focus on anything.  What happened?  She thought only to find herself distracted by the feeling of the blanket she sat on. Keron.  Her mind conjured his image.  She felt the world slowly snap back into place.  She shook her head, clearing the last of the confusion from her mind.  It is time I speak to Telmax and Ohili she thought as she hurried to dress, all the while keeping the image of Keron in her mind.

In the Temple of Twilight, many of the priests kept long hours, working well into the hours of Tzi’s rule.  So once dressed, she made her way to Ohili’s teaching room, hoping to find him working.  But the stone chamber was empty, as were the halls of the temple.

At a loss for how to find either man, she made her way to the kitchen.  She did not know where Telmax’s rooms were nor where Ohili’s were, but she knew the servants would.  They knew where everything in the temple was.

As she entered the kitchen, the few servants working at this late hour stopped their work and lowered their heads in deference to her. She stifled her annoyance at their obsequiousness, reminding herself that their devotion to her would serve her today. “Please, can one of you send for under-priest Telmax.  I must speak with him, and do not know how to find him.”

She noticed that even Cook, once her friend, kept his eyes on the floor, but did not hide his frown, “We are honored to serve you True Bride.”  He glanced at one of the kitchen boys, “Boy, find Telmax and bring him here.” He paused and continued, “Aren’t you still in waiting for your initiation?”

Soshay paled, realizing that she was breaking her vow of silence.  Of course with all the visits she’d received from Mitlan and others, it hardly seemed important. “I am, Cook,” she hoped her words sounded confident, “But I am on Tez’s business today.” She looked at the boy waiting to find Telmax, “Please send him to the courtyard with the shrine.  I will be there. Tell him it is urgent.” At least, she thought, the courtyard will limit the number of people who see me flouting the rules.

The boy did not speak as he raced from the room.

The cook continued to frown at her, and glanced at the bowed heads of the other servants.  “Soshay, is it wise to seek him out at this hour?”

Soshay finally understood his frown.  Of course meeting with the young and handsome priest in the middle of the night would raise eyebrows.  She mentally cursed herself for demanding to meet him in the courtyard, when the records room would have made more sense.  Soshay shrugged, “I have had a vision, and it concerns him.”

Cook nodded, “Be careful and be quick about it, Soshay.”  He glanced at the boys and ordered them back to their work. “Tongues wag about you already, don’t give them any more reason to speak their blasphemy.”

Soshay nodded, “I understand, Cook and I thank you for your concern.”

He snorted a laugh, “But you will still do as you will.”  He rested his hand on her cheek, “willful girl.”

She gave him a broad smile, “I must go.”  She made to leave and one of the boys stopped her, calling out, “Please, my Lady, may we have your blessing?”

She stifled a sigh, “You have my blessing, for what little it is worth.”  She said and watched Cook give an approving nod, while all the servants only bowed their heads further.  She shot cook an annoyed glance, and stifled a giggle at his crooked grin and shrug.

She found her way to the courtyard and paced anxiously awaiting Telmax.  How does a priestess of Tzi know him; he claimed to be from the City of the Lake.  There are many questions he must answer. And how does the High Priestess know of Ohili?  Her eyes traveled along the wall, seeking the pinnacle of the Temple of Dawn.  Even in the darkness, it still looked just like all the other temples.  She rebuked herself for expecting to see the Corrupter rising from the stones.  But at least Setch is safe for now. 

She continued to pace, wondering if Telmax could not meet with her.  If he does not come, I can go to Keron.  It suddenly occurred to her that she had been assuming that Telmax and Keron were working together, but she suddenly realized that Keron may know very little of what transpired between her and Telmax or Ohili.  Would Telmax really keep secrets from Keron?  Even as she thought the question, she knew that Telmax would keep any information from Keron if he thought it would hurt him.  What does Keron know about Telmax’s plans? 

She jumped slightly at the sound of the courtyard door.  She turned to find Telmax looking harried.  “Little Sister,” he offered a bow, but noticing her look of concern, quickly turned serious.

“We must speak.”  She led him toward the shrine, “Can we be watched here?”

Telmax pointed to a skull necklace that he wore, “Not while I wear this.  It interferes with far-seers’ abilities.”

Soshay paused a moment considering this information and suspected she knew where he had acquired such an item.  Realizing he was waiting, she turned her attention back to him, “I had a vision about Setch.  She was chased from the Temple of Dawn.  I saw her run to the Temple of Midnight.”  She thought she saw him smile to hear this information.  “I was worried about her. So I used far-seeing to find her.”

Telmax nodded, “And you are concerned that you could not see within the Temple of Midnight?  Don’t worry, no one can.”

Soshay frowned at his interruption.  “I can and I did.”

Telmax sat with his mouth hanging open.  “You saw within the temple?”

She nodded, “Let me finish.  I saw and was seen.” She glanced at him to prevent further interruptions. “A priestess was there,” Soshay offered a quick description of the woman before continuing, “The priestess was with Setch and the priestess saw me.  She spoke to me.”  Soshay glanced at the door, making sure no one came outside, but realized that at this late hour that was unlikely.  “She told me that you can answer my questions.  She spoke of you by name, how is that possible?”
Telmax ran his hands through his hair, resting his elbows on his knees.  “I am going to guess that asking you to trust the word of the High Priestess of Tzi, and asking you not to question this is not an option?”

Soshay shot him a glare but did not bother to answer.

Telmax sighed.  “Trust that I am an ally, at least to you and Keron.  The woman you saw is Teo the High Priestess of Tzi.”  He paused with another sigh. “No one outside the Temple of Midnight knows about this.”  He cursed softly before continuing. “Tzi’s High Priestess can always see a far-seerer.  The gift rightly belongs in her temple after all.”  He looked away, “There are things I cannot tell you, things that would put you in danger.”

Soshay gave a sharp laugh, “I have been in danger since the day Keron took me from my parents’ home.  For the last five years it seems that Tenoch and Neldo have plotted my destruction, I am beyond danger.  Tell me.  I will not abide secrets anymore.”  Her voice was sharp.

Telmax flinched at her words before talking a deep breath.  “The High Priestess, Teo, she is my mother.”

Soshay stared at him.  She knew that children born to priests were not always sworn to any temple. “But you serve here?” she said puzzled, “Is that such a great issue?”

Telmax rolled his eyes. “You and Keron both must start to understand the world outside of visions and Tez better.  When you get to the City of the Lake, you are going to drown.”  He cut himself off, and shot her a look, “Can you at least pretend you didn’t hear that.”

She started to protest, but Telmax continued, “One secret at a time, little sister.”  He continued, “No one can ever know she is my mother.  Gods, Soshay, my service to Tez would be in jeopardy if anyone knew.”  He paused, “You know that a child born to a priestess is marked by her god, even if the child does not enter the temple of his mother.  My devotion to Tez, my work here, would cease if anyone knew.”  He glanced at her trying to see if she understood.  Catching the continued look of puzzlement he continued, “I was initiated into the Temple of Midnight. I was sworn to serve Tzi.  Too repudiate that and to seek service with another would make me,” he paused.

“Apostate.” Soshay whispered.  “You tied your spirit to Her and sought to take it back, to give it to Tez?” Soshay felt the blood drain from her face.  It was the same crime her sister Chacon had committed. “Why would the Temple of Twilight accept your service?”

Telmax’s face fell.  Soshay realized he felt the horror in her tone far more keenly than she had expected.  But to reject a god one was sworn to, that was too wicked, too vile for Soshay to consider.

“Soshay, no one knows, not even Keron.  I’m trusting you to keep silent about this.”  He kept his eyes fixed on the ground.  “But, please believe that I truly serve Tez.”  He finally pulled his eyes up to meet hers.

She gazed into his eyes, seeing the awful pain, the terrifying fear that filled them.  She managed to nod weakly, “Tell me how this came to be?”

Telmax swallowed and began to speak.  “I was born to the Temple of Midnight.  And I was devoted to Tzi.  But there are magics within the Temple of Midnight that no outside of Her service know of.  I,” he paused as it considering how to explain what had happened, “I almost died in Her service.”  His voice grew quieter. “It was magic gone terribly wrong.  And as I lay near death, it was not Tzi who came to me.  Tez appeared to me, and he called me to his service.” He glanced at the shrine behind them, “None of the statues or friezes truly capture his visage, do they?”

Soshay shook her head.  “I have thought the same thing.” Her voice was a whisper.

“I lived and left Tzi’s service.  I went to the City of the Lake and sought service within the Temple of Twilight.  I told the priests there of my near-death and of Tez’s calling.  I never told them of my past in the Temple of Midnight.”

Soshay sat in silence a moment considering his story.  She had felt the genuine pain in his words.  “But you still love Her?”

Telmax nodded forlornly.  “I must.”

“So you serve Them both?”

Again he nodded.

Soshay took his hand.  “You passed your initiation?”

Telmax frowned, “Of course,” his mouth twisted into a wry smile, “both of them.”

Soshay nodded, “If Tez accepts your service, than who am I to reject it?  I will keep your secret, but you must agree to be honest with me from now on.”

Telmax look up at her and she could see the glare of tears in his eyes.  He took a shuddering breath, “Thank you Soshay.”  He squeezed her hand before removing it from hers.  “I will answer all of your questions.  Maybe it is time that you did know everything.”

“Tell me what you know of the Corruptor.”  Soshay said.

“Teo, the High Priestess of Tzi, has known about the Unnamed One for a long time.  She has had the Temple of Midnight looking for a way to destroy that cursed relic since it destroyed the apostate Anacoana, years before either of our births.”  He gazed over the wall a moment, “I have been searching since I became an adult.”  He waved away her questions, before she could start. “Remember when we spoke of the gods being unable to directly touch the world?”

Soshay nodded.

“Tzi has been using her servants far longer than the other gods.  She alone has been working to destroy this Unnamed God.  Through me, She has convinced you and through you Tez to join Her side in this war. She has recruited Setch and through Setch, Zel.”  He drew a shuddering breath, “No one can know of this Soshay. Aside from being heresy, think of how this knowledge would affect the temples?  The people would doubt; they would lose faith.  This is not Tzi’s intention.  She works to preserve the Cetza, and this Unnamed God is a threat to us all.  If the gods go to war with each other, we will be destroyed, again.”

Soshay stared at him, trying to absorb his words.  A conspiracy of the gods?  A war, where we are the soldiers, the casualties for what?  “Why?” her voice cracked, “Why would they allow us to be destroyed?”

Telmax shrugged, “Power? Devotion? Worship?  I don’t know.  I only know what Teo has told me and what I have seen. Why did Tenoch do what he did? A desire for power? Jealousy? Greed?  The gods seem to suffer these failings too.”

Soshay’s thoughts shot back to her meeting with Tez.  His jealousy over her thoughts of Keron and Zel’s spiteful curse of love, both now made sense.  Human failings, with the power behind them to destroy the world, Soshay shuddered at the thought.  “Where do I fit into this?”

“You have been touched by the gods, and not only Tez.”  He gave her a weak smile, “You and I are very much alike in that. And this has locked us both into their plans,” he paused seeing the horrified expression on her face, “but your choices are still your own.  Just as I made the choices that brought me here.”

She shook her head, “I have no choices.  They choose for me.”  She spat the words.  “If you think, your choices are your own then you are a fool.”  She hated the harshness of her words, “You sit here longing for the Temple of Midnight, but you cannot go there.”

Telmax shook his head, “Yes, I do long for the Temple of Midnight and for Tzi’s grace to touch me once again, but the gods influence, they coerce, but they cannot force our hands.  If you wanted to leave the temple now, you could.  The gods may send misfortune your way, but you could walk away. They would simply find another to replace you. Me, Keron, or another novice, your friend Neza perhaps, or Pelo?” He took her hand, “You have a choice, and I have been fighting since you arrived here to make sure you were able to make choices.”

She offered a sad smile, “You are not much of a fighter then. I have not had many options, and now I have fewer.  If I don’t join in this fight, what will happen?”

Telmax clasped her hand, “According to Keron’s visions, we could be enslaved by Him. It will be too late for our gods, and they will be destroyed.  She will reign over all people and many others for centuries.” He looked into her eyes, “But Keron has seen others take your place and help quiet the Unnamed God, release us from His bondage after some time.”

Soshay pulled her hand away and wrapped her arms around her middle.  It was all too much for her to process. Her mind could not make sense of anything. “But you say I could walk away?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“I said you could, not that you will.” He looked at her sadly.  “It is a terrible burden that you bear.”

“Does Keron know all of this?”

Telmax raised an eyebrow, “Not as much as you do now.  He has his visions and his spies.  He knows much, and like I told you before he sees patterns that others miss.”  He shrugged, “But no, he does not know all of this.  I fear that you cloud his judgment.”

“What do you mean?”

“He loves you. He would never knowingly put you at risk, and to defeat the Corruptor, you will have to put yourself in grave danger.”  He saw that she understood, “You already know that the work you and Setch began is not finished.  Once the Corrupter finds out about your alliance, He will use all her power to annihilate you both.”  He paused seeing her grow paler, “You wanted the truth, Soshay.  I will not keep it from you any longer.”

She swallowed, “And what of you, what role will you play in this?”
Telmax shook his head, “I do not have the gift to see the future, like you.  I don’t know what role I will play.  But I will give up my life for Tez, for Tzi, and to protect you.”

Soshay looked at him overwhelmed with her thoughts, “Would that you had three lives to give.  What of Ohili?”

Telmax smiled, “He has aided me for years now.  He and I are bound together.  It is a long story, but he knows everything, and has helped me uncover the Suyu origins of the Unnamed God.”

Soshay gave a weak smile, “But your mother, does not seem to like him.”

Telmax looked surprised, “What did she say?”

“She asked who taught me the far-seer’s art.  She seemed surprised that it was Ohili and was not happy to have to agree with him about the dangers of the otherworld.”

“She doesn’t trust him because of his heritage. The Corruptor is Suyu. Teo believes Ohili must own some allegiance to Him.  Worse, the blood of his father vexes her.  In the Temple of Midnight, they value knowledge. He is an unknown. He doesn’t fit into anything they understand and this terrifies her.”  He gave a tired smile, “She is also my mother and believes it is his love that keeps me away from the Temple of Midnight.”

Soshay nodded, “Why have you kept all of this from Mitlan?”

Telmax gave her a sad smile. “Keron’s visions indicated that Mitlan should not know about the Unnamed One.” Telmax paused, “What do you think of Mitlan?”

Soshay shook her head, “I cannot speak fairly of him, not yet.  I am troubled by his temper and his unwillingness to listen to anyone who disagrees with him.  I can only hope the last two are the effects of Tenoch’s gift.” Soshay suddenly wanted to cry. It was all too much, and there was so much she did not understand. She took a shuddering breath, “So I’m a toy to be used by the gods, a toy solider to be moved about in their war games?”  She asked, thinking of the games played by Cetza children.

Telmax nodded slowly, “We all are. You, me, Keron, Setch – and who knows how many others.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t know what to do – I don’t understand any of this.  Why have my visions never shown me any of this?”

Telmax shook his head, “I don’t know.  I have never understood the gift of prophecy.  I don’t know why you see different events than Keron, nor why you both at times see events with different outcomes.  Mayhap the future is too unpredictable.”

She felt the first tear run swiftly down her cheek.  “What do I do now?”

Telmax held her hand, “You continue on doing what you have always done.”

Soshay frowned and wiped at her eyes, “And what have I done?”

Telmax smiled, “Surprised us all.”

She tried to smile in return, but finally gave into her fears, her exhaustion and cried.

Soshay was grateful that Telmax let her cry. When her tears began to subside, he laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Better?”  He asked.

She managed a small nod, still sniffling she wiped at her cheeks. “So what now?”

“Now, you return to your room and prepare for your initiation.  True Bride or not, there are still some with the temple who hope to see you fail.”

Soshay offered a tired smile, “Even if I wanted to fail, Tez will never allow it.”  She turned her eyes to the shrine.  “He has already claimed me.”

***

Once he had convinced Soshay to return to her room, Telmax prowled the halls of the Temple of Twilight.  If Setch has gone to Teo, then she will know that I have given away her gift.  He thought absently reaching for the necklace that he had given to Setch. It felt strange to be without it; the necklace had been with him since he was a child.  His mother had made it during her pregnancy, and he had worn it his entire life.  He assumed he could make another, but it would not be as powerful. And he was unsure that he could practice those arts safely within the Temple of Twilight. Mitlan was looking too deeply into all the happenings in the temple.

He found himself heading to Ohili’s chambers without intending to.  The far-seer was occupied writing in a codex when he entered.  He stood in the doorway a moment, watching the far-seer.  Over the years, Telmax has grown used to the alienness of Ohili.

When they had met in the City of the Lake, it was Ohili’s strange coloring and features that made him stand out. Telmax had relied on Ohili’s strangeness, his exoticness, to keep himself hidden in the court of the Imperator. Telmax bore the fine manners that marked him as coming from the ruling families. It made those at court far more interested in him than he was comfortable with; it prompted others to ask questions of his parentage, to seek out what ruling family he hailed from. If they could discover that, then they would learn of his mother. And Ohili had been more than happy to keep a court full of bored and ambitious politicians focused on himself, saving Telmax from their scrutiny.

Telmax smiled recalling some of the extravagant and eccentric behaviors that Ohili had invented during their time in the City of the Lake.  It had worked long enough for Telmax to cultivate a relationship with Mitlan and secure a posting as Keron’s under-priest.  He had been surprised when Ohili asked to accompany him to the City of the Jungle, but realized now that without the far-seer all his plans may have failed.

“Far-seer, what mischief are you getting up to now?” Telmax called from the doorway.  He laughed to see Ohili jump in surprise.

Ohili glared at him before returning his laugh.  “I am working on this ridiculous language you use.” Ohili pointed to the codex and Telmax stifled further laughter, recognizing the book as a primer used to teach children to read and write.

Telmax made his way to the small table Ohili sat at.  Ohili had a small chamber, one of those reserved for a guest of the temple. But he had made it his own quickly enough.  The Suyu rugs that covered the floor had come with them from the City of the Lake, but everything else were the flotsam and jetsam of their time in the City of the Jungle. Ohili maintained his outward show of exoticness even within his chambers.  He had eschewed the traditional white-washing of the walls, and has instead mixed various dyes and paints into the mixture. Each wall in the chamber was painted a different vibrant color.  The deep, rich green of one wall warred with the vibrant red of another which warred with the honeyed yellow of another. Telmax always felt the colors somehow assaulted one’s senses.  The vibrant colors were not enough for Ohili. Once that was finished, he had painted a myriad of words in the alphabet of the Suyu and some in the strange writing of his father’s people. Ohili has translated the words for him once; they were the lines from a Suyu poem. It told a haunting tale of being exiled from home.  But the strange shapes and symbols were the cause of the many rumors that Ohili was a witch. Of course, Ohili did nothing to quell the rumors.

The remaining space was filled with various codices and a bizarre collection of stones, animal skulls, dried plants, and sea shells.  Much of the collection belonged to Telmax himself.  They were the items he needed to create the magical devices of the Temple of Midnight, but hidden among the motley collection nothing stood out as special. He’d spent many a night picking through the collections taking up bits and pieces to cast his spells.

He toyed with a piece of starred obsidian, like the one he had given Setch, wondering if he could recreate the protection talisman. He shook his head and left the stone on the shelf.  He sat opposite Ohili at the table.

“So, Telmax why are you here?”

Telmax shrugged, “I spoke to Soshay today.  She has been far-seeing.”  He said and instantly regretted it when he was the anger wash over Ohili.

“She what?  Is she that stupid?” He raged, “I warned her about the risks.  The Corrupter walks the otherworld unfettered.” He muttered a curse. “I can only assume she is unhurt?”

Telmax nodded.  “She had a vision, without liuqui.  She saw Setch escaping from the Temple of Dawn.”

Ohili interrupted, “Escaping?”

Telmax nodded, “It seems that the Unnamed has turned her sights to destroying Setch.  Keron had a similar vision, and I warned Setch myself.  Maybe the Corrupter could sense the effects of the alliance ritual, but I don’t know.  According to Soshay, Setch fled last night and sought sanctuary within the Temple of Midnight.  Soshay was worried about her, so she sought her out in the otherworld.”

Ohili frowned, “Did you explain to her why she could not see within the temple?”
Telmax smiled, “Teo’s magic did not block her. Our little priestess not only saw within the Temple of Midnight, but she spoke with the High Priestess.”

Ohili sat in stunned silence.  He was a powerful far-seer, but he had never managed to break the spells that protected the Temple of Midnight. He had thought it impossible, that it was related to the other magics practiced within the black ziggurat. “What did your mother say to her?”

“The High Priestess,” Telmax said pointedly, “Told her to come to me.  That I am an ally and that Setch is safe.”

“Do you think Teo still wants you to return to the Temple of Midnight?”

Telmax nodded. “She will always try and force my return, but after the accident with the trepantrix, I know that I cannot.  I saw Tez on that day and he called me to serve him.”

Ohili nodded slowly.

Telmax appreciated that Ohili was always, at least on the surface, respectful of the gods.  But he knew that Ohili had no real belief in them. His ideas about gods would even shock the Gray Priests of the Temple of Midnight.

“Is Setch safe?”

Telmax shrugged, “That is what worries me. Teo needs the information from that accursed trepantrix. It almost killed me, and it has killed others.  She will see Setch as a vessel.  If she survives, I don’t know what will happen to her baby.”

Ohili frowned, “It could hurt an unborn child?”

“Hurting the child would be a kindness.  The only pregnant woman to take a regular trepantrix was the apostate Anacoana. Her daughter was physically sound, but she was mad.”  He paused, “No, not mad, but not here in the physical world. I only met her a few times as a child.  She was always,” he paused again, “She was like you when your spirit returns to your body.” He glanced at Ohili to see if he understood, and he assumed by the man’s blank look that he did not.  “It was like she was half in the physical world and half in the otherworld, all the time.  She had power. Uncontrollable visions, unintended far-seeing, great power with magic, but they were all out of control.  There was no balance, no control.”

Ohili grew pale. “And this could happen to Setch’s child?  Teo knows this?”

Telmax nodded. “She knows. And She will believe that she is giving Setch a choice to accept the trepantrix, but it won’t be a fair choice. She won’t tell Setch about the consequences to the child.  The child doesn’t matter to her.”

“What does matter?”

Telmax barked a laugh, “to my mother, only the destruction of the Corrupter.  She will do anything and everything to destroy Him.  It won’t matter who dies in the process.”

Ohili offered him a sad smile, “But you matter to her.”

Telmax narrowed his eyes, “I wish that I did, but it is not me that matters.  It is what I can do. I was able to wear the trepantrix and survive, at least for awhile.  I can access the knowledge that she wants.”

Ohili shook his head, “I think you judge people far too harshly.  She was the one who ordered it removed.  She worked great magics to save you.”

Telmax sat in silence a moment. “I should report Setch’s escape to Keron.”  He rose and began to leave. “I only wish I had a way to warn Setch of the dangers within the Temple of Midnight.”

“Telmax!” Ohili called and walked over to the other man. He pulled him into an embrace, “Just consider that not everyone is as heartless as you think.”

Telmax let himself sag into Ohili’s arms, but offered no reply.

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