Chapter Twenty-Eight (Twilight of the Gods)

Previously, after Tenoch attempts to sabotage the first part of Soshay’s initiation, she gives a prophecy that reveals the existence of the Unnamed God to Mitlan. Mitlan ends Shoshay’s first test, by forcing her to be part of murdering Tenoch, by using him as a human sacrifice. 

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Chapter 28

Soshay was surprised to learn that she could sleep.   After the awful sacrifice, she was certain that she would never be able to close her eyes again without seeing Tenoch’s dying eyes.  She had awoken and spent the day alone, as was required for her initiation.  She had spent the long hours before her initiation deep in thought.  She read Setch’s note over and over but was still unclear what the priestess of Dawn, was being asked to do.  I wish I could talk to Telmax.  He could explain about this trepantrix that Setch mentions.  To Soshay, Setch seemed to be pouring out her fears onto the page, even as the letter acknowledged that Soshay would probably not receive the note in time to respond.  If this ritual that the Temple of Midnight offers Setch, will really give us a way to defeat the Corrupter, can she say no?  She thought, even as a small voice inside her reminded Soshay that the ritual risked Setch’s unborn child.  At least my choice is easy, she told herself, I go to lie with a man tonight, and that is no different than what any woman my age would do.  She tried to shut out the nagging reminder in her thoughts that most young women would at least be acquainted with their future husbands, and that they would be going to a man and not a god.

She looked at the note again.  Setch says that my initiation is the last step before we will have to destroy the Corrupter.  Just as she believes that this trepantrix ritual is her last step.  She pulled out a clean sheet of paper, intending to send Setch some words of encouragement, but found she could think of none.  She forced her stylus to the page, deciding that even if the note sounded hopeless, at least Setch would know someone cared about her dilemma.

Soshay finally stopped writing after filling two pages.  She had told Setch about Tenoch’s death.  No, she reminded herself, Tenoch’s execution.  She had included the prophecy she had received in the altar room.  She finished the note, reminding Setch that if she feared for the life of her child that she could and should refuse the ritual.  Soshay had to believe that there would be a way to defeat the Corrupter without Setch risking her child, and she wanted to believe that Tzi would understand if Setch refused.

When she was done with the letter, she realized that she could not put off her preparations for her final trial.  Before she began the process of getting dressed, she drank the potion Setch had sent her.  As she finished struggling into her new clothing, someone knocked on her door. She opened it, expecting to find Pelo or maybe Ohili.  They were the only two people she could think of who would violate the rules about an initiate spending the day alone.  She could not contain her shock to find Mitlan standing outside her door.

“Novice,” He bowed his head at her.

She did not know what to say, afraid that speaking at all would violate the rules of her initiation.

Mitlan stepped into her room and closed the door behind him.  “We must speak.  The rules of silence before your initiation will be suspended.”

She managed a stiff nod in response.  Mitlan, she noticed, wore fresh skull paint and what she guessed was his more ornate ritual clothing.  His hair was still damp, so she guessed that he had come directly from preparing for the ritual tonight.

He sat in her chair.  “Your prophecy has caused quite an uproar in the temple.”

Soshay perched on the edge of her bed.  She did not want to be in the same room with him.  All the memories of the last night came flooding back.  “Why? Why did you make me sacrifice Tenoch?”  She asked in a whisper.

Mitlan smiled at her, “Tez is a god of death little priestess.  He demands sacrifice, are you unwilling to give Him what He demands?”  Mitlan’s voice was soft.

She heard the double meaning in his word, “You know… you know what I have vowed.  And you know what I will do tonight.  But sacrifice,” she paused, “I… I am an oracle.  I foretell. I do not preside over sacrifice.”  Her words were weak and broken.

Mitlan cocked his head at her.  “Ah, little priestess, he deserved death.  He deserved worse than what he received.  Do you understand the consequences, what would have happened if the truth of his gift was known?”

Soshay nodded remembering her conversation with Keron.  “I understand, but I will not be made to perform a sacrifice again.  If Tez had not asked it of me…” she paused letting her words trail off as she watched his expression darken, and she realized that she could not threaten Mitlan with anything of consequence.  “But, you did not come here to discuss Tenoch, did you?”

“No, novice I did not.  Keron has supplied me with all of the prophecies regarding this Corrupter.  There is some question about the accuracy of many of them, given Tenoch’s mendacity.”

Soshay shrugged. “I don’t know what is recorded in my codex.  You heard my prophecy last night.  I don’t know anything else about Him.”  She stopped herself from telling him to ask Telmax or Ohili.  She doubted that Telmax wanted to come to Mitlan’s attention, and even if he was the High Priest, she was not going to tell him about her lessons with Ohili.

Mitlan gazed at her a moment, and Soshay felt a prickle of unease.  Let him doubt me, she thought, Tez chose to keep the Corrupter’s rise from him, not me.

“Soshay,” he sighed, “I don’t want us to be enemies.”  He pulled something from his pocket.  “The oracles are not clear on what role you are to play in the defeat of Him.  But, you will tell me everything from now on.”  His words carried an edge of warning.  “I will not be kept in the dark by my own temple.”

Soshay hesitated, “I will do as Tez wills, My Lord.”

He narrowed his eyes in thought.  “Do not forget that I speak Tez’s will, novice.”

She managed to stifle her laughter. He speaks for Tez? I speak to Tez, she thought.  She nodded keeping her eyes on the floor.

“I have brought you something.”

She looked at him frowning.

He held a small lapis lazuli bead in his hand.  “For your hair,” he gestured for her to take the charm.  “A priest receives one after his first sacrifice.”

She took the charm and realized that the bead was carved into a skull.  She held it awkwardly, unsure if she was supposed to attach it to her hair now.

Mitlan smiled at her confusion and took the charm from her.  He took a small strand of her hair and quickly threaded the bead on and knotted her hair below it.  “Now, novice, you are beginning to look like a true servant of Tez.”

She felt the slight weight of the bead, and as she shifted she felt its soft tap against her shoulder.  “Thank you for your consideration, My Lord.”

He gave her another smile.  “We will not be enemies, Soshay.  Tenoch had to be stopped, and the rest of the temple had to view you as above them.”

She shot him a quizzical look and he continued.

“No one will ever question your place here again.  Few priests are allowed to perform human sacrifice.  I called you forth to perform the rite, and that makes you inviolable.  I did it to help you.”

Her eyes widened, at his words.  It makes sense, she realized.  No one will ever question my place here again, and no one will ever dare to mistreat me again.  But does he realize that he has made my life harder?  He has elevated me above everyone before I am even initiated?  She pushed her thoughts aside.  “Again, I must thank you for your concern for me, My Lord.”  She paused, “I had not considered how your actions would change my status.”

He rose from his chair and smiled at her, “Always so diplomatic, little oracle.  Someday, I will convince you to be honest with me.”

She could hear the warning in his words.  If he believed that she lied to him, then even her new status could not protect her.

He did not wait for her response before bidding her goodbye.

She watched him leave, toying with the bead in her hair.  When she was certain he was gone, she took her note to Setch and went in search of Pelo.

***

Soshay stood at the entrance to the altar room, in a few moments the ritual for her initiation would begin.  She waited for the signal for her to enter.

The heavy doors to the altar room were opened and Soshay stepped inside.  The ritual was timed to coincide with the sunset, Tez’s hour.  Already the ceiling and upper portions of the windows were cast in the purple shadows of twilight, but it was the setting sun that made Soshay pause.  The sun cast its garish red-orange light over the assembled priests and the entire room.  Everything and everyone appeared bathed in blood and fire.  She shivered, the colors making her think of the Corrupter.  She took a breath and walked to the altar and turned to face the assembled priests.

None would meet her eyes, and most shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.  Mitlan did not realize what his decision would do at all.  She thought.  He hasn’t elevated me; he has made me something to fear. She realized with a pang the reality of her new status when she found Neza’s familiar face in the crowd.  Even he would not look at her.  Silence filled the room and Soshay stood waiting.

From the east corner of the room, the Keeper of Ritual spoke and his voice rang throughout the altar room, “Novice Soshay, do you freely enter into the Chamber of Trials to prove your devotion to the Lord of Death?”  The torches in that corner of the room were snuffed out as he spoke.

“I enter freely to prove my devotion to He that rules Death.”  She heard her own voice echo throughout the vast room.

The Master of Records spoke from the north corner, “Novice Soshay, will you keep the secret of your trial, telling no one but the God of Twilight of what transpires?”  More torches were snuffed out.  The light of the sun filtered into the room, its eerie red light made all the shadows darker and sharper.

“I will keep the secret of my trial from all but He who sends the trial.”  As she spoke she felt the hair on her arms rise and the prickling of power.

Keron spoke from the west corner, “Novice Soshay, will you keep secret the prophecies gifted to you by the Lord of the Harvest, telling no one what you see save the High Priest, High Oracle, and patron?”  With the torches almost gone, she could not see to the end of the chamber any longer.  Keron was only a voice in the void of purple shadowed darkness.

“I see what He wills, and I will speak only in the presence of the High Priest, High Oracle, or Patron.”  As she recited the words, she felt a tingling of power growing.  It was like a warm breeze blowing over her.

A priest she vaguely recognized as a senior member of the temple spoke from the south, “Novice Soshay, do you swear to abide by the laws set forth by the Master of Spirits?”  He too was lost in the darkening room, and Soshay could not see him at all.

Soshay paused, realizing that the priest misspoke.  He should have asked if would follow the laws and will of the Master of Spirits with unquestioning obedience.  He must have been chosen to replace Tenoch and he is not prepared for this role.  His question is wrong, she thought feeling the growing power in the room weaken.  She wished she could see the priest’s face, to know if the mistake was purposeful.

She hesitated to answer, wondering if Mitlan would stop the ceremony.  She glanced at him, and he gave a barely perceptible nod.  Doesn’t he feel that the power has lessened, that the ritual is interrupted? She thought frantically.  With no other option, she spoke the expected reply.  “I exist to serve His law and His will without unfailing obedience and unquestioning devotion.”

As she finished, she could hear a slight murmur from the assembled priests.  They know he misspoke as well, but was it intentional or a mistake?  Will Mitlan end the ritual? 

She heard the annoyance in Mitlan’s voice as he spoke, “Novice Soshay, will you remain in the chamber of trials for a full day and night, enduring whatever tests that Tez wills?”  Only a single torch was lit behind Mitlan.  The flickering light cast his face in shadow.

Soshay swallowed, so Mitlan will not stop the ritual or let it begin again.  She wondered what ramifications this would have on her status in the temple, but answered anyway.  “I will endure and revel in the trials that my Lord Tez wills.”

The assembled priests began the prayer for the trials.

She glanced again at Mitlan.  He stood in his ritual kilt, with his chest bare, his painted face was shadowed by the black jaguar pelt that rested on his head and shoulders.  She thought she saw a faint smile before she looked away.

The prayers rang thought out the chamber.  Soshay murmured the memorized words along with the priests, and once again felt the power in the room grow.  It was the same feeling of pressure, of the air before a thunderstorm that she had felt with Setch. By the time the prayers ended, Soshay felt almost suffocated by the pressure of the built up energy in the room.  Soshay was jolted from her reverie by Mitlan’s voice.

“Tez accepts your pledges Novice Oracle.  Enter the Chamber of Trials bound by your promises.” Mitlan opened a door behind the altar as the sun finally set.

Soshay tried to shake off the heavy feeling of power in the air and took a step toward the door, focusing on the blackness within.  With each step, she felt herself grow steadier.  Soshay entered the Chamber and heard the door close behind her.

It was no brighter in the chamber Soshay entered. She stood in the darkened chamber waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim light.  As the room started to take shape, Soshay could see that she stood in a small anteroom.  From what she could see of the walls and floor, the room was unadorned.  Ahead she could see flickering torches.

She took a hesitant step toward the light.  The room she found was barely larger than the antechamber.  She glanced at the altar and the statue of Tez.  While smaller in scale to the grandiose pieces in the altar chamber, this statue was the first she had seen that almost captured Tez’s true face.  This is where He will be.  This is the vision that Keron had.  She shivered in both fear and excitement.

She took a few halting steps forwarded, drawing closer to the altar.  She wondered if Tez would view her use of the contraceptive as defiance and if he wanted her to bear a child from this union.  If I am to be struck down, so be it, she thought, I’m not going to risk the difficulties of a pregnancy and it is already too late.

The massive statue of Tez dominated the small room.  Soshay walked slowly toward the altar, drawn by the statue.  The only sound was the occasional crackle from the two torches in the room.  Soshay reached the altar and knelt before it. “My Lord, I swear myself to your service.  I give my body to your service.”  She paused and took a breath finally understanding the significance of that vow.  “I give my blood to your service.”  She took the ritual knife from the altar and drew the obsidian blade lightly over her palm.  The razor sharp blade stung only a moment before her blood welled.  She rested her palm on the altar, wondering how many hundreds of novices had done the same through the centuries.  “I give my soul to your service.”  She finished with her palm still resting on the altar, in a small pool of her own blood.

She remained kneeling before the altar, lost in her own thoughts.  She felt connected to the Temple of Twilight in a tangible way.  It felt as if her blood staining the altar created a physical bond between her and the very stones of the pyramid.

She remained kneeling before the altar, and in the near darkness, Soshay did not know how much time had passed.  It may have been minutes or hours, but she remained on her knees until she heard a sound to her left.  She squinted in the darkness and could make out the rough outline of a door.

The door opened and Soshay blinked against the light that flooded in.  She could see the outline of a man and knew it would be Keron.  He closed the door behind him and stood in the darkness.

Soshay maintained her stance before the altar.  Now that she understood what Tez intended for her initiation she found herself shy.  She wondered if it was Keron who stood at the door or if he was already possessed by Tez.  Unsure, Soshay focused on the altar.

Keron took a tentative step forward.  Soshay was not sure if his hesitation was due to darkness or if he shared her uncertainty.  He made his way to the altar and knelt beside Soshay.  Watching him from under her eyelashes, Soshay noted that he bowed his head and seemed to be praying.  She pulled her attention back to the altar and offered her own prayer to Tez.

Finally, Keron turned to face her.  “I understand my vision now.  This is the time I was meant to come to you.”  His voice was low, barely a whisper.

Soshay could barely see his face in the flickering lights but realized that he did not understand his vision at all.  He doesn’t know that soon he will be gone.  That Tez will take his place with me.  Instead of correcting him, she simply nodded.

He shifted to face her.  “I wish this night could be about us, and not the dictate of the gods.”  He raised his hand to stroke her cheek.

Soshay felt her eyes burn with unshed tears, and offered a silent prayer to Tez, begging for his understanding. Zel had cursed them both with love, and she feared that Tez would punish them for Her curse. “Won’t anyone notice that you are gone?”

Keron smiled softly, “Telmax will keep anyone from questioning my absence.”

Soshay hesitantly rested her hand on his chest, feeling his heat through the mantle he wore.

Soshay knelt in the darkness and sought Keron’s hand in the darkness.  Holding his warm hand helped steady her nerves.  After a moment of silence, she asked, “Did He direct you to come here, now?”  She knew that Keron understood that she asked about Tez.

Keron turned and placed his hands on her face.  “I am here of my own will.  Soshay, I don’t think I could ever prove how much I want to be here.”  His eyes searched her face.  “I admit, if I had not had the vision of us together, I never would have dared this night.”

Soshay offered a weak smile, feeling the tears building again.  She wondered if it would be easier knowing the god would take his place if she did not love Keron.  She took a shuddering breath and leaned forward placing her lips softly against his.  “I wish this could be our night, my love.”  She whispered.

He deepened the kiss, his hands tangling in her hair. Keron pulled back and stood up.

Soshay felt the pressure in the room change and knew. She hurriedly shifted to kneel.  “My God.” She whispered with reverence.  She watched Keron blink a few times, his eyes trained on his limbs.  He moved slowly, awkwardly at first.  He finally looked at her, and even in the darkness, Soshay could see the yellow gleam in his eyes.

“My priestess.”  The voice was Keron’s, but the power behind the words belonged to the god.  “Tonight you become My true bride.”

Soshay lowered her head, fighting to hide her tears.  It would be easier if he took someone else’s body, she thought and quickly forced her mind to go blank, not wanting to risk the god’s wrath a second time.

She heard his slow step toward her and felt his hand raise her head.  He gazed at her face cocking his head in thought.  “Are you frightened of Me?”

Soshay shook her head but her eyes were wide with fear.  “Not you Lord, but of what we are to do.” Her voice was barely audible.

He let out a soft laugh, his hand brushing her cheek.  It was so reminiscent of Keron’s touch that this time she could not hide her tears. He wiped at her tears with his fingers, tasting them.  He narrowed his eyes, looking past her. “My Sister is cruel.”  His words were not directed at her, but Soshay still shivered at the force behind them.  “Her gift will make this harder for you, My Bride.” He paused, his voice becoming soft, “And for that I am sorry.”

Soshay gazed at him, unsure how to respond when a god apologized. She took a deep breath, “I have sworn to serve You, and I have promised all that I am to You.”  She blinked at her tears, “I am honored to be Your servant.”  Her voice faded to a whisper.

Tez offered his hand to her, helping her to stand.  He rested his hands on her shoulders.  “My priestess, you are My favorite servant.”  He leaned down to kiss her.

Soshay felt his lips on hers and his arms wrap around her.  She felt his lips press softly, but insistently against hers.  His hands slid down her back, fingers splayed against her back. She slowly responded to his kiss.

He pulled her closer to Him in response.  She pressed against His hard chest.  She shyly placed her hands on his arms, lightly stroking his skin. He was as cold as the god of her visions.  She wrapped her hands around his arms, as he broke the kiss.

He gazed at her, and for a moment she saw Keron again.  She shivered afraid that he would read her thoughts again, but either he could not while possessing a human or was not bothering to see what thoughts filtered through her mind.  She felt his hands lifting her on to the altar.  She felt the cold stone through her skirt. He kissed her over and over, leaving her gasping for breath.

“I am afraid, My Lord.” She whispered as his rained kisses down her neck.

He whispered in her ear, “I will not hurt you, My Bride.”

She shivered as his breath tickled her ear.  She clasped her hands around his back, letting her head loll back.  He continued to kiss her neck, his hands behind her back, working the knot that held her shirt on.  Soshay felt herself responding to his touch.  She wanted to touch him, to pull his mouth back to hers, but hesitated.  He is not my lover, He is my god, she reminded herself.  And then, she gasped as his hands slid over her breasts.

She lost herself in the feelings coursing through her body, and she let her hands run over his back, slide under his mantle and over his chest. He pulled away for her and pulled the mantle over his head. She struggled to breathe and untied her skirt. Sitting on the altar, it pooled around her feet as it fell away.

Tez stood before the altar, his eyes traveling over her.  She felt his gaze as tangible as his touch and shivered.  He finally reached for her again, and she lost herself in his touch.  He gently pushed her back on the altar until she lay beneath him. His hands still roamed over her body, touching and teasing her senses. She bit her lip until she tasted blood, trying to silence her cries when he lowered his head and his tongue delved into her wetness.

“No one can hear us, My Bride,” he said, looking up at her, “I want to hear you.” He moved up to kiss her again, lapping at the blood on her lips. Time seemed both endless and impossibly short to Soshay.  Her body responded to his every touch, every kiss, and every caress.  As his hands left her, she felt empty and heard herself whimper in need.

He shifted his position, moving to lie atop her. She felt his weight, balanced on his arms above her. She reached for him then, pulling his head to hers, kissing him again as he entered her. Her soft, startled cry was muffled by the kiss.  He held himself still a moment, pulling his mouth away from hers. She gazed into his inhuman yellow eyes, as he began to move inside her.

Nothing had prepared her for the feelings that overwhelmed her.  She cried out and grabbed at his shoulders, wanting him closer, wanting to feel him.  She saw his lips curl into a smile and he began to move faster within her.

She heard his own cry of pleasure and felt his movements slow.  He stayed atop her, and she felt comforted by his weight, his closeness.

He slowly shifted, moving off of her.  He lay on his side, his hands idly stroking down her chest and stomach. “Now you are truly My Bride.”

Soshay gazed into his eyes. “Yes, My Lord, I am.”  Her own voice was still filled with wonder.

He moved her closer, shifting her until her back pressed against his chest and his arm wrapped around her.  “Ah, My Priestess, My Bride.”  He whispered, but still, she felt the words reverberate through her bones.  He kissed her shoulders before He spoke again.  “Because of you, I am bound to My Sister’s cause.”

Soshay did not know what to say.  She could not tell if He was angry, or simply stating the truth.

“Her curse,” he spat the word, “Hurts you and hurts My High Oracle.”

Soshay began to stammer her denial, “Zel’s gift does not compare to the gift You have granted me this night, My Lord.” Her stammer words faded to a whisper.

He stroked her hair, “You cannot lie to Me, Soshay.  And Keron cannot lie to Me when I wear his skin.”  He paused, “Tonight, I must grant My Sister’s request.  You and Keron will lie together, and on the nights I cannot be with you, you may seek his company.”

Soshay lay frozen.  “I don’t understand, My Lord.”

Tez offered cold laughter that made her shiver.  “She demands a concession from Me, as I did from Her.  Did you not think that the alliance you made would have a cost?”

Soshay shook her head, “I sought only to serve Your will.”

“And you have My wife, but in this, She will not be denied.”  He growled the words.  “I must share you with your human lover.”

Soshay shivered, expecting His anger.  He remained silent but shifted to look down at her.  She saw only pain in his eyes.  “I do not know what to say, My Lord.  I…I…” she fumbled for words.

“Say nothing.” His words were soft. “Keep him from your thoughts when you are with Me.”

She swallowed and nodded.

He kissed her again. “I cannot wear his skin much longer.”

Soshay felt her eyes fill with tears.

He ran his finger down the path of her tears. “Why do you cry?”

She took a shuddering breath, “To know that I will be apart from You.”  She tried to swallow the sob that suddenly rose in her throat. “You… You are my God, my husband.”

He smiled at her and for the first time, she did not see the cold visage of death in his smile.  “Ah, My wife.  You are a wonder.”  He kissed her again.  “I will return to you.”

She felt the air in the room shift and knew that He was gone. She found herself naked in Keron’s arms.  She lowered her eyes from his face, blushing furiously.

“Soshay, I know what happened.” His voice was filled with awe and sadness.  “I was aware and He spoke to me too.”  He shifted away from her, and she glanced at his face from under her eyelashes seeing his blush.

She sat upon the altar, wondering how to cover herself. She fumbled to reach her discarded skirt.

Keron reached past her and snagged an edge of the fabric.  He pulled it onto the altar and wrapped it over her shoulders. He lifted Soshay from the altar and sat cradling her.  She gloried in Keron’s returning warmth. Even if looking at him made her blush, she continually glanced at his eyes, assuring herself he as no longer possessed by the god.

“You knew he would use my body.”

Soshay heard the pain in his words and knew it was not a question.  She nodded nevertheless.  “He told me he would.  He was very angry at Zel’s interference.”  She swallowed the rising tears, “He did not want us to be in love.”

Keron pulled her closer, resting his chin on top of her head.  “Does He truly forgive us, for Her interference?”

Soshay sighed, “I think so.  He returned you to me.  He knows that we…” she paused embarrassed, “Before he left… he gave us tonight.”  She finished.

Keron kissed her head.  “I know, but this is not what I expected.”

Soshay stiffened, unsure what he meant.  Does he mean what we are allowed to do?  Does he no longer want me, now that Tez has… she let the thought trail off.  “Has this changed how you feel?”  Her voice cracked.

Keron hugged her tighter. “No my love, not that, never that.”  He leaned forward to look at her.  He kissed her briefly, “I did not expect Tez to take my place.  I did not consider that He would truly make you His bride.”

Soshay shivered, “I am.  And after tonight, I must in truth act His bride.”  Her voice was low.

Keron took a shaking breath.

They sat in silence, both unmoving. What had passed between them, and what they had been given permission to do, was almost too much for Soshay. She stifled a desire to curse Zel’s name for the havoc She had wrought.  If I did not love him, it would be easy.  She thought.  She laid her head on his shoulder and felt him stroke her hair.

Soshay did not know how much time had passed when she finally broke their silence.  “Keron, I am confused,” Soshay whispered. “I wish to be Tez’s wife, but He has given us the freedom to be together, to love.”

He kissed her softly and she saw the tears in his eyes.  “I don’t know that I can…”  He murmured a quick prayer asking forgiveness of Tez before continuing, “Share you with, even with Him.  Mayhap Zel will lift her curse from us.” His voice carried all the doubt that Soshay felt.

She shot him a disbelieving glance, but she shifted closer to him.  “It may well be the price I must pay for the alliance between Her and Tez.”  She looked up at him, “But there is no need for Her to make you suffer too.”  Soshay sighed.

“To love you is not suffering.”  He said.

She gazed into his dark eyes, reading the truth of his words there.

He kissed her again and they came together, slowly, with hesitancy and fumbling on the stones before the altar.

Afterward, Keron held her and told her to sleep.  He promised he would wake her well before her trial was to end.  She tried to argue.  She wanted every stolen moment she could have with him but felt the tiredness in every word.

When he woke her, she was suddenly conscious of how little time they had left.  Her time in the chamber of trials would end far sooner than she would like.  “How long do we have left?”  She asked softly.

Keron sighed, “Not enough, it will never be enough.”  He kissed her softly.

“You must give me time alone before my trial ends.”  Her voice was soft.  “I must prepare myself.  I must, we must both learn to act like a teacher and student in front of everyone.”

He nodded slowly.  “I don’t know if that is possible.”

She sat up, “You must.  Even with Tenoch gone, someone, some priest who wants power, who wants to take your place in Mitlan’s esteem – anyone who knows of this will use it against us.”  Her words became frantic.  “Tell me you understand.”

“I know that you are right.”  He sighed and ran his hands through his hair.  “But it will be difficult.”

She nodded in agreement and the silence stretched between them.

Keron finally broke it, “I should leave you now.”  He glanced at the torches, noting how far they had burned down.  “If I go now, you will have a little less than an hour to prepare yourself.”  He glanced around at her scattered clothing, “Do you need help?”

She shook her head, fighting back tears.  If I cry now, he will not go.  He will stay and comfort me and I will not be able to let him go.  She shook her head.

He tilted her face to his and she saw her tears reflected in his eyes.  He kissed her a final time and rose silently to collect his own clothing.  He looked back at her before slipping out through the secret door.

Soshay began to get dressed.  She knew that she could not afford to cry, not yet.

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