Chapter Twenty-Six (Twilight of the Gods)

Previously: Setch has escaped from Este and the Unnamed God and found sanctuary in the Temple of Midnight. Once again, she has been presented with heresies that trouble her faith and devotion of Zel. Soshay awaits her initiation.  

Chapter 26

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Setch sat in her room within the Temple of Midnight.  Even with a night’s sleep and breakfast, she was still trying to understand everything Teo had told her the previous night.  It seemed that the exploration of the mysteries undertaken within the Temple of Midnight was very different from the paths of the other temples. Setch tried to condense everything to the basics. The Unnamed One could kill the Cetza gods, she thought and wondered again how a god could die.

Eventually, Setch had simply tried to accept the possibility.  If our gods die, what will happen to us?  Will we all be forced to serve the Unnamed One?  Can new gods rise?  Her thoughts disturbed her.  They shook the very foundations of everything she knew.  The world was created by Zel and her siblings; they had always existed and would always exist.  But now Setch was unsure.  At least I understood the part about being welcome to stay here, she thought with a sigh.

“Forgive my questions, My Lady,” She whispered in prayer to Zel.  “I have been cast out from your house, and now reside with Your Sister.  But I have not forsaken You.”  Her words seem to hang in the air.  If I question, it is only because I must while I reside here, she thought.  She sighed and glanced at the pile of codices that Ixchell had brought her, at Teo’s behest.  She picked up the first and opened to the first page and began to read the history of the gods.

We, of the Cetza, are trained to believe that our gods created the world as it is now.  The four gods, Zel, Tez, Tzi, and Mat have always been as we know them.  Within the Temple of Midnight, we seek truth, our gods are eternal, but also die.  They exist with different names, with different functions – as different entities throughout time.  Our patron goddess, Tzi, was once something else.  This is the greatest mystery of our temple, to understand the plurality of our gods, to understand the ever-changing nature of the divine.

Setch put the codex down, feeling the blood draining from her face.  The theories put forth within the codex questioned everything Setch had ever known.  While Teo, the High Priestess, had not made reading the codices a stipulation to remaining within the temple, but Setch felt she should try to understand these strange priests.  She set the codex aside with another sigh, and selected another off of the very large stack.

She paged through the codex, marveling at the sheer number of codices that existed with in the Temple of Midnight.  While all temples kept extensive records, Setch was shocked to see that the Temple of Midnight placed such an emphasis on reading.  I wonder how many of their novices act as scribes to copy all of these codices, she thought noting how perfect all of the lettering was.

A soft knock on her door broke through her thoughts.  “Enter” she called.

Teo entered, accompanied by a priestess in gray.  Teo offered a kind smile noting the codices left open in various places.  “It is a lot of information.” She nodded toward the books.

Setch nodded, “And much of it is difficult to…” she paused not wanting to offend and say the material was heretical, “to understand.”

Teo laughed, “You are diplomatic.  A priestess of your temple would be far more likely to call us heretics.”  She sat gracefully next to Setch, giving the priestess in gray the only chair in the chamber.  “Are you shocked by what you have read?”

Setch blushed recalling her earlier thoughts, “Yes, I admit I am.  The claim that our gods have died and been replaced goes against everything I was taught as a child and as a priestess.  The histories in the Temple of Dawn tell a very different story.”

Teo smiled, “So you can understand why we keep this information locked in our temple?  Only our sworn priests and priestess ever study this material, and those of the highest orders.” She glanced at the books, “And it is difficult, at first.  But we in Tzi’s service value the search for understanding more than anything else, so to consider such difficult questions and to search for facts that would support or refute these theories is what we must do.”

Setch only nodded unsure how to respond.  Being given such highly regarded secrets of a temple was a gift of great responsibility.  To Setch’s thinking, it was akin to her sharing the secrets of Zel’s contraception potions.

The priestess in gray glanced pointedly at Teo.

“Oh, I apologize.” The high priestess looked abashed, “Setch, this is Huixto, our senior Priestess of Knowledge.  I am not sure there is an equivalent position in your temple.”  Teo paused, her face going blank for a moment, then continued, “With her duties she would be closest to your Priestess of Births, I think.”  She looked to Huixto to confirm.

Huixto still wore the same blank expression that Teo had worn.  Teo sat in silence as if this was normal.  Setch stared confused.  It seemed to her, that this woman Huixto, must suffer some brain deficiency with the vacant expression.

Huixto blink rapidly and spoke.  “Because of the physical work, the work on bodies I do, I am the closest relative to your Priestess of Births.  She controls knowledge as well, keeping the secrets of your birthing potions and she oversees the training of healers and midwives.”  Her gaze finally seemed focused to Setch, “Yes, I am closest to she.”  Huixto’s eyes traced Setch’s form.  “You are with child.”

Setch recognized Huixto’s words as a statement not a question.  “How can you know that?”  She whispered, she had not told Teo of her condition, and did not think her condition was visible yet.

“I told you, my work is akin to that of your Priestess of Births.”  She looked at Teo a moment with an expression of impatience.  “Her condition may be a complication.”

Setch narrowed her eyes feeling her anger rising.  Yet again, she found others attempting to use her for their own gain.  She took a calming breath before speaking, “Teo, why is my pregnancy a complication?  I thought you offered me sanctuary without stipulation.  Does the Temple of Midnight have some edict against pregnancy?”

Teo placed her hand on Setch’s shoulder, “We have no such edict,” she shot a glance at Huixto.  “You are welcome to stay here as long as you like.  We expect nothing of you.”  She paused, “But, we had wanted to give you a tool, something that would help you to understand our plans to defeat the Unnamed One.”

Setch raised an eyebrow, “And what is this tool if pregnancy complicates it?”

Teo glanced at Huixto, “Can you explain this to her?”

Huixto began, “We have created a system of giving knowledge, a system that allows for far less study.  We had hoped to give you all of the information we have amassed about the Corrupter.  But as you are pregnant, it presents a greater risk to you.”  She finished.

“To me? Or to my daughter?” Setch asked.

Huixto blinked a moment, “Oh yes, I guess a child would be important to you. But the procedure will not prevent you from having future children.”  She added.

Setch glared at her, “I will not agree to anything that will harm this child.”  She glared at Teo, “Will you ask me to risk my child?”

Teo shook her head quickly.  “Huixto forgets herself.  For most of our priests, children are rarely a priority.  Many of our followers are disinterested in the process.  But not all of us disregard the importance of children.”  She glanced at Setch, “I have a child too, albeit he is a man now, at the time of my pregnancy, I would not have risked him for anything.”  She looked to Huixto, “And the procedure risks the pregnancy?”

Huixto stared at Setch a moment.  “She is early in her pregnancy.  The child should remain viable.  I cannot say how the treppantrix will affect the child’s development.”  She shrugged.

“What do you mean her development?”  Setch asked trying to keep the fear from her voice.  While she wanted to believe Teo, she had seen too often how a baby’s life could mean very little when power was involved.  Many women came to the Temple of Dawn to be rid of inconvenient pregnancies.

Huixto cocked her head as if listening to something that Setch could not hear.  “The trepantrix is a device, an object of both natural and magic powers.  It is possible that the magical aspects may…” she paused a moment, again with the expression of listening, “The magic may leach through you to her.  Just as the foods you eat do.  This may cause her to absorb the knowledge contained in the trepantrix, or it may altar the structures of her brain.  But it would most likely be only those structures involved in learning, so the child would gravitate towards learning and Tzi.”  Huixto paused and smiled, as if she had been reminded to do so.

Setch frowned, “Then I cannot consent to whatever this procedure is.  It has been prophesied that my daughter will one day be high priestess of the Temple of Dawn.  I cannot jeopardize her future.”

Teo stiffened hearing of the prophecy.  “Who gave you the prophecy?”  Her voice was soft.

“The High Oracle of the Temple of Twilight, and it was confirmed by the oracles of the Sisterhood.”  She laid her hand on her belly, “Zel is a jealous god; I do not know if she will allow a child touched by another god to rule her temple.”  I don’t know if she will still allow me to rule now that I have been tainted by my time here, she thought.

“Keron himself told you of the vision?”  Teo asked.

Setch paused, recalling that Teo knew of Telmax.  “No, it was his under-priest Telmax.”

Teo swore under her breath, “What is known cannot be unknown.”  She said with resignation.  “Will you still hear me out? Or does the potential risk close your mind?”

Setch shook her head, “I will listen, but I will not do anything to risk my daughter.  She is in part, why I was forced to leave the Temple of Dawn.”

Teo nodded, “The procedure would give you not only all of the information about the Unnamed One, which I should say is a massive collection, but you would also have all of the analyses put forth by our scholars and those of Zel.  We believe that something in the trepantrix will help us all to defeat the Corruptor.”

“Why would you want to give me this trepantrix,” she stumbled over the unfamiliar word, “It seems to me that one of your priestesses would be far more suited to this procedure, than I.”  She nodded towards Huixto.

Teo nodded, “I would agree, but no one in our temple can use this trepantrix.  It was altered after our past involvement with the Unnamed One.  No servant of Tzi can ever wear this trepantrix; The attempts by our priests to wear it, have ended in death.”

Setch frowned, “How could it kill someone?”

“A trepantrix is implanted in the skull.  It sends information into the wearer’s brain.  This treppantrix was created when we had possession of the Unnamed One’s artifact. We experimented with the powers of the throne.  Those experiments are recorded on this trepantrix.  Foolishly, the priestess engaged in the research, placed it all in a single trepantrix.  This priestess believed she could control the magic of the chair, and against our rules, she did not share the information or copy the trepantrix.”  Teo paused in thought, “Some power of the artifact or of the Unnamed One himself, altered the trepantrix.  The priestess almost died before we could remove it.”  Teo’s face clouded, “When we tried to implant it in another, he was killed.”  Her voice shook.  “We had limited success with another, but it was removed before it killed him.”

Setch grew pale, “And you wish to put this inside of me?”

Teo offered a weak smile, “I can assure you, it is perfectly safe for anyone not sworn to Tzi’s service.  The priest who used it and survived, he is still alive and well.”

“Then why not have him use it again?”

Teo shook her head, “He cannot.  Should he try again, we believe it will kill him.  It should go to you or as a second choice, Soshay.”

Setch let out a hollow laugh.  “So the one thing I excel at over her, may kill me?”  She continued to laugh mirthlessly, “As Soshay seems to have every power ever gifted to a Cetza, why is she second choice?”

“Because of your connection to Zel.  Our research indicates that Her representative is the best choice.  You are connected to Zel on a level never before recorded.  Even if you do not realize it, She has personally touched you.  You are Her true High Priestess.”  She smiled, “We have heard of your initiation into the Sisterhood, and know that you are their chosen High Priestess.”

“Teo,” Setch began, “I appreciate this offer, but I don’t know if I can be part of this.  I won’t risk my child, and I don’t know anything about the magic you have spoken of.  If I am touched by Zel as you say, mayhap this magic will break that bond, and that I cannot risk.”  She rubbed at her temples, feeling a headache brewing.  “Allow me the time to try to pray to Zel.  Maybe She will give me some guidance.”

Teo nodded, “Of course, I understand.  You have spent much of life being used by others.  The schemes and plots of others have dictated your life.  We in Tzi’s service value free-will.  Say your prayers; take all the time you need.”

Huixto started to interrupt, but Teo cut her short.  “Yes, Huixto I know her pregnancy progressing is a concern.  But for now, Setch needs time to choose with wisdom and knowledge.  Go and speak with the Gray Priests, see if there is a precedent for a trepanning on a pregnant woman.  Bring us information, not rushed judgments.”

Huixto looked admonished by Teo’s harsh words.  She offered a brief goodbye to Setch and left.

Teo turned back to Setch.  “I am sorry.  I don’t think she can understand.  For many of the priests here, having children is an alien endeavor.  Haven’t you noticed that very few children come from our temple to yours?”

Setch considered this. “I had assumed you kept them all, or most of them.  As we keep our daughters and the Temple of Noon keeps its sons.  If having children is so rare, why did you?”  Setch did not feel the need to apologize for her bold question.

Teo laughed.  “A fair question.  I did say many of us choose not to have children.  It is one reason we maintain such close ties to the Temple of Dawn, we need your contraceptives.  I choose to have a child out of love.  I loved my son’s father very much, and I wanted his child.  It is an irrational desire, but I could not deny my heart.”  She shrugged.

“And your son, does he serve here?”

Teo shook her head sadly.  “No, he,” she paused, “he began his initiation, but his calling was not with Tzi.  He left us for the City of the Lake and found his calling there.  He was the one who tried the trepantrix and survived.  He bore it well, but it was not meant for him.  Even then, I think he was meant to serve another.”  Teo’s eyes grew distant with memory and Setch thought the woman may begin to cry.  She shook herself and turned back to Setch, “Maybe it is because I am his mother and not his father, but we have grown very distant.  I hope you and your daughter can be closer.”  She rose and began collecting the codices.  She handed one small scroll to Setch.  “This will tell you about the trepanning.  I will leave you to read it, and commune with your goddess.  Please know that you are our guest.  Nothing will be forced on you.  You are free to explore the temple.  If you need anything,” Teo pointed to a decorative panel on the wall, “press that and Ixchell  will come.”

Setch nodded, “Thank you for your kindness.”  She paused, “If we all survive the Unnamed One, and I do become High Priestess, I will see that the Temple of Midnight is given the proper respect within the Temple of Dawn.”

Teo bowed her head in thanks, “For now, rest.  If you decide to consider our gift, read the scroll.  I will return with whatever information we have on the potential effects to your daughter.”

With that she left Setch alone.  Setch laid back, her thoughts jumbled.  The only thing she was certain of was that she would not risk injury to her daughter.

But if the Unnamed One rules, your daughter is dead.

The voice drifted through her thoughts.  “My Lady?” Setch whispered and waited to hear from her goddess.

***

Teo strode through the halls of the Temple of Midnight.  First, she would deal with Gray Priests; then, she would call the council to discuss their options should Setch decline.  No one in the Temple of Midnight will ever be forced into anything, but does that include Setch?  She wondered.  Of course she is a guest, a guest seeking sanctuary at that, but…  She shook off the thought.  Even if Setch was not one of them, she could not break the primary law of the temple.  She was, however, quite certain that Setch would never learn the truth about Anacoana receiving the trepantrix while pregnant nor would she ever learn about the mad daughter born from the process.

 

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