Previously, during her time in the Chamber of Trials, Keron’s vision comes to pass. Tez, possessing Keron, came to Soshay and they consummated their relationship. Part of Tez’s alliance with Zel means he must allow Soshay and Keron to have their relationship. Soshay and Keron use her final time in the Chamber to finally come together.
Setch has found sanctuary within the Temple of Midnight. Her allies in the Temple of Itz and the temples of all adopted gods have been attacked by the warriors in the Temple of Noon. Setch believes they are acting on Amox’s orders now that he has been corrupted by the Unnamed God.
Setch stood in her chamber in the Temple of Midnight, with her gaze fixed on the Temple of Twilight. The sun had long since set, but still, she watched, wondering how Soshay fared at her final initiation.
She knew that her potion had reached Soshay, but she did not know if Soshay would use the potion or even if a God could impregnate her even if he wore the body of a man, but Setch was also keenly aware of how it felt to allow someone else to control her body. I have given her a small choice, one I hope her God will forgive. She wondered if a god was like any other man if the risk of a child even occurred to him. She shook her head at the thought, to lie with a god is beyond my imagination. And to have the first time be with a god… She shivered and let the thought drift off.
For all of her experience with men in Este’s service, she could still remember the fear and the overwhelming exhilaration of her first experience. But to lie with the God of Death, Setch thought with a shudder. She whispered a prayer for Tez to be kind to his oracle, and to remember the weakness of human flesh. Regardless, Soshay will be changed by the experience, and I hope it will be a good experience.
She turned from the window as the sun sank behind the tree line of the jungle, shaking her head again at the unfathomable idea of a mortal woman lying with a God.
And tonight, I must finally choose the unimaginable as well, she thought, glancing at the discarded codex that explained the trepantrix. Soshay chooses to lay with her God, and I choose to allow the magic of another goddess to enter my body. From reading about the process, Setch understood that the servants of Midnight considered the trepantrix a part of the goddess herself. She will enter my skull; She will become part of me. Is my sacrifice really any less than Soshay’s? Setch felt her uncertainty returning. She had prayed for guidance, but her prayers had remained unanswered. She had received nothing she considered a sign, no snake came to her this time, and she did not feel the touch of the goddess. Tonight she would give her answer and undergo the procedure. The hope that the trepantrix would give her a way to defeat the Unnamed One and restore Zel’s temple had to be enough to sustain her decision.
A soft knock on her door interrupted her thoughts.
Huixto entered her chamber. The woman still disquieted Setch. She wore little if any expression on her face, and while Setch now understood that the trepantrix was the cause of her often vacant eyes, it still unsettled Setch knowing that soon she too would wear the same expression.
The Gray Priestess bowed her head in greeting. “You have decided?” Huixto asked.
“I have decided,” Setch said trying to sound firm.
Huixto cocked her head waiting for Setch’s answer.
“I will accept the trepantrix. But,” she locked eyes with the priestess, “You must promise to do everything you can to protect my unborn daughter.”
Huixto nodded. “I have told you the risks. I will do nothing to intentionally harm the child.” She opened the door, “Shall we begin?”
Setch swallowed and felt herself grow pale. She glanced back out the window, If Soshay will risk her life tonight, I can do the same. I only wish I did not risk my daughter as well. She prayed once more to Zel and followed Huixto out of the room.
Setch followed the silent Huito through the black hallways of the temple. She followed Huixto up a number of stairwells and realized they must be nearing the top of the temple. They finally entered a large stone chamber. There were no windows, but Setch was certain that she was high in the temple.
A small group of Gray Priests was already in the chamber clustered around a table. Setch tried to ignore the large stone table in the center of the room. She knew this was where she would lay during the procedure, but the massive piece of stone looked far too much like an altar for Setch’s comfort.
“Setch, you understand the procedure?” Huixto asked.
Setch nodded weakly, “Our priestesses our familiar with the process of trepanning. We have little use of it as midwives, but I have witnessed the procedure once.”
Huixto nodded. “Unlike the process used in healing, we will replace the piece of skull that we remove with the trepantrix.” Huixto paused and signaled to one of the other priests. As he came over to them, Setch noticed that he carried a small pile of cloth.
Huixto unwrapped a small corner of the cloth, and Setch peered at what appeared to her to be a small, square piece of clear quartz. Huixto gingerly pulled more of the cloth away and Setch saw what appeared to be a writhing vermillion spot in the center of the stone. It was not exactly misty or cloudlike but was closer to something like mixing oil and water. Setch found she could not tear her eyes from the shifting red mass at the center of the stone. Thin lines of inky blackness appeared in the mass, and the movements changed. The swirling vermillion mass seemed to move with purpose, and Setch was uncomfortably reminded of a spider leaping on its prey. The vermillion mass seemed to attack the blackness. So huancan, widow maker of spiders, do you seek to destroy me again? Setch thought as she watched the red twist and writhe and slowly fought to cocoon the blackness. She leaned closer to watch the fight, unable to tear her eyes away. The black mass, like a void, burst out of the vermillion cocoon, never overtaking it, but subduing it.
She swallowed. “This is the trepantrix?”
Huixto nodded, carefully covering the stone again. “This is your trepantrix.” She gesture and the priest held out another stone, this one uncovered by cloth. Setch could see it was shaped roughly the same as the first, but instead of the angry vermillion mass, this stone held only inky darkness, that was strangely soothing to her eyes after the glaring red of the last stone. Setch watched the blackness shift and move within the stone, but its movement seemed like the slow dance of water in a stream, while the red stone seemed like the rapids where water crashed into stone roiling and violent.
“The substance in the center is the information stored within the stone. It is thought to be the essence of Tzi herself.” Huixto handed the cloth back to the waiting priest.
“The vermillion stone, that one is mine?”
Huixto nodded. “We believe the color change was caused by whatever the Corrupter did to the stone. You see the black mass attempting to overtake it? When it was implanted before, in the priest who survived, the stone became black again.” She paused, “At least for a time. When it was removed from him, it remained only red for weeks.”
Setch glanced at the cloth covered stone again, “And how do you know it will not kill me, as it did before?”
“Our experiments indicate the stone only reacts to those in Tzi’s service. To those in Zel’s service, it seems to remain black. If the Sisterhood had allowed it we would have implanted it in one of their order.”
Setch frowned, “How have you experimented?”
Huixto’s expression became inpatient. “No one has worn this stone since Telmax almost died. The Sisterhood balked at the process, and Teo forbade us to try with anyone else. We have only experimented through touch.” She gestured to the cloth. “None of us can touch it without becoming violently ill, but those in the Sisterhood can handle it with no ill effect at all.” Huixto ignored Setch’s attempts to interrupt. “Your Priestess of Births sent some of the Sister’s here to help us. They were all fine after the tests. We lack the ties with the Temples of Noon and Twilight to see if the effect on their servants is as benign, but it seems a reasonable assumption. Telmax may well have been a servant of Twilight when it was implanted in him.”
Setch stared at the woman her mouth hanging open. “You mean Telmax, under-priest to the High Oracle of the Temple of Twilight? He served here?”
Huixto shook her head, “I do not know what position he holds in Tez’s temple, nor if he even serves in the City of the Jungle. I know that once we had a priest with that name and he left us to serve in the Temple of Twilight. What does it matter if it is the same man?”
Setch shook her head, “It would mean a great deal to me.”
Huixto’s face again became impatient. “I have no knowledge of what became of him.” She paused, her eyes growing vacant, “I do know that over two-thousand boys and men within the empire bear the name Telmax. It could easily be a coincidence.” She tried to wave away the conversation.
Setch realized that even Huixto did not believe what she said. “Huixto, you lack any skill in duplicity. You know it is not a coincidence.” Setch smiled to finally see the Gray Priestess look surprised at something. “Why would you keep this from me?”
Huixto’s eyes briefly went vacant. “The Temple of Dawn has the most stringent laws against repudiation.”
Setch nodded in response.
“We did not want you to be unsympathetic to him. He is a great ally to us and to you.”
Setch took a step back from Huixto. “So you lied to me? He lied to me?”
Huixto shrugged. “My effort was not to mislead you. The information was simply irrelevant. What Telmax’s intentions were in keeping this information from you, I cannot say.”
“What else have you deemed irrelevant?” Setch’s voice was taut with anger.
Huixto’s eyes again went blank. “I have been honest with you regarding the procedure at hand. I have accurately told you of the risks of the process,” she glanced at Setch’s belly, “The risks to you and to your child.” She sighed, “Politics and dogmas disinterest me. If a priest leaves the Temple of Midnight, he is no longer my concern. My only interest is to serve my temple and to serve my temple, I seek knowledge. I seek to understand the Mysteries.” She looked at Setch her eyes imploring her to understand. “I honestly did not think it mattered.”
Setch heard the fervor in Huixto’s words and saw the emotion on the woman’s face. “I believe this is the first time I have ever truly seen your face,” Setch said the anger gone from her voice. “Tzi should be honored to have a servant such as you.” Setch reached for the woman’s hand and stopped, unsure how Huixto would respond to a friendly gestured.
Huixto stared at Setch’s hand a moment and finally reached out to touch it briefly. “Please trust that I would never lie about my work with the trepantrices. I did not want his involvement to be a distraction. His decision to leave his service here has nothing to do with the trepantrix.” She finished with a shrug.
Setch nodded. “I believe you.” For a brief moment, Setch felt a frisson of energy in the mark on her back, almost like the warm touch of a hand. She glanced at the table in the center of the room and sent a silent prayer of thanks to Zel. “Enough of this talk. I am ready to begin.”
Huixto led her to the table and instructed Setch to lie down. The other priests began binding her to the table.
Setch raised her eyebrows at the bindings.
“You cannot move during the process. Normally we prefer to have the subject sedated, but none of those potions are safe for your child. We must be certain that you will not move during the procedure. The bindings will make certain you are perfectly still.”
Setch lay bound on the table surrounded by the Gray Priests. Huixto held a small bowl to her lips.
“Drink, Setch. The potion will not harm the child, I made certain of that. It will prevent you from feeling any pain.”
Setch swallowed the bitter drink. With her training in herbalism, she automatically started dissecting the various tastes trying to decipher what went into the potion. She could identify some of the herbs, but not all. She was reassured that she tasted nothing that she knew would hurt her child.
“I am sorry for the bindings,” Huixto said as she gently pushed Setch’s head flat against the table and pulled a strap across Setch’s forehead. Setch stared up, expecting to find the stone ceiling. Instead, she found a clear glass window. Above her, through the glass, she could see the endless night sky. It reminded her of the wall of stars she had seen when she entered the temple. The endless darkness and glittering stars were probably a comfort to Tzi’s servants, but Setch was left feeling dwarfed by the void above her.
Setch found she could not move her eyes from the sky above her. She tried to speak but found she could not move her lips.
Huixto noticed the panic in Setch’s eyes, “Do not be afraid that you cannot speak. The potion dulls the pain and prevents some movement, mostly in the smaller muscles.” Huixto tightened the strap that would keep Setch’s head from moving. “Please, try and relax.”
Setch was glad she could not move otherwise she knew she would have started screaming. Relax? She has me tied to a table and I cannot move or speak. She is going to cut a hole into my head, and put that thing inside me. She mentally shuddered, picturing the angry red mass in the trepantrix. She felt Huixto parting her hair. The feeling was distant, almost too faint to notice.
Setch heard the swish of a blade as her hair was cut away, and the rasp of a razor shaving. She could feel only the slightest pressure from the blade.
The Gray Priests around her continued to hand instruments to Huixto. Sometimes passing them over Setch, and she tried to focus on them, but like her throat, her eyes seemed unwilling to respond. She was left to mostly stare into the void and listen to the hushed conversation of the Gray Priests.
She could feel something touching her scalp. She heard a wet, rasp – almost like some peeling an orange. She heard the drip of liquid falling into a vessel and realized with horror that it must be her blood. She fought to turn her thoughts away from the process, not wanting to connect the sounds to her own body.
She felt more pressure and then felt the first tap. It seemed to reverberate through her skull ending with a dull ache in her teeth. It was followed by another and another. Trapped in her mind, Setch knew that Huixto was taping a sequence of holes into her skull. These holes would allow a piece of her skull to be removed.
Each tap terrified Setch more.
“Relax, it is almost over.” One of the Gray Priests said stroking her face. “It is almost finished.”
Setch felt another tap and a sudden release of pressure. She heard something thud into a clay bowl. The thud filled her ears. Zel help me, please. I know this practice is not yours, but please help me and my daughter. Her thoughts were jumbled with fear.
“Setch, we are going to put the trepantrix in now. It will be,” Huixto paused, “disorienting for a few moments. Try and clear your thoughts. If you are relaxed, it will be easier.”
Huixto’s face left her field of vision and Setch felt the terror rising again.
Relax my daughter. I understand what it is you do. You risk this for Me.
The voice filled Setch with peace. Setch felt the pressure as her skull was closed with the trepantrix. She heard the wet sounds again, and then for a moment, she felt nothing.
Setch’s mind was flooded with information. Images, words, ideas – none of them her own, and all of them warred for the attention of her overwhelmed mind.
Suyu in origin. Artifact a Jade Chair, taken from a Lakiti temple near their border with the Suyu lands. Unnamed One, Corrupter, Zel. Sacrifice. Destroyed three Lakiti villages with a rain of fire. Anacoana no longer in control. He is waking. Possession. Destruction. Unquenchable appetite for death. A spear instead of an ear of corn. A serpent, a viper.
Setch wanted to scream as the images and information continued to flood her mind, but she was still locked immobile from the potion.
Similarities to Zel evident. Mat a threat to Unnamed One. Novice Oracle Soshay, Temple of Twilight. Prophecies collected by Telmax. He sleeps. Setch closed her eyes, but it did not stop the onslaught of images of cities she did not recognize in flames, or streets becoming rivers of blood.
“Drink, Setch, drink.” The voice broke through the images.
Setch managed to swallow the sour liquid offered to her and finally slipped into blissful oblivion.
“Did the process work?”
Setch could hear the voices but was unsure if they existed or were part of the torture that was the trepantrix.
“Yes, Teo, she will be fine. The trepantrix began the information transfer a little quicker than we expected. She should be waking soon.”
Setch fought to quiet the riot of words threatening to overwhelm her again. Be silent! Please give me a moment’s peace. She thought. Thankfully, it seemed the trepantrix listened.
Setch opened her eyes. Her head ached and even the dim lights in the room made her groan and close her eyes again.
Setch finally placed the voice as Teo, High Priestess of Tzi. “I..” her own voice was weak, “I am going to kill Huixto.” Setch rasped. “She didn’t tell me it would be like this…”
“Your child is fine,” Huixto said to her. “I already checked her condition. You will be fine too.”
Setch managed a weak smile. “I am still going to kill you.”
Huixto sighed, “You need to learn to control the trepantrix, or it will control you.” She helped Setch to sit up. “Normally our priests spend weeks learning how to access and limit the information before the implant occurs.”
Setch cringed as she sat up, feeling her head throb. “And you tell me this now?” She sipped at the tea Huixto handed her. “How do I make it stop?”
Huixto sat across from Setch leading her through the process of accessing and limiting the trepantrix.
The breathing exercises distracted Setch from the headache, but trying to focus her thoughts quickly became torture. At times, she was able to stop the flood of information, but then an innocuous thought or memory would make the trepantrix start up again. None of the information forced into her brain made any sense to her and she despaired that she had made the wrong decision.
“We must stop,” Setch gasped, rubbing her forehead gingerly. “My head is aching too much.”
Huixto gave her a sad look, “If you were not pregnant, I could give you something stronger to deal with the pain.”
Setch started to snap at her but noticed the genuine look of concern that Huixto wore. “Will the pain ever subside?”
Huixto nodded, “In time. You must get used to the device first. You should try and sleep awhile, that may help. I will wake you in a few hours.” She walked to the ewer in the room and brought a wet, cool cloth to Setch. She laid it across Setch’s forehead.
Setch was touched by the unexpected kindness from Huixto. Setch sighed as the coolness lessened the throbbing pain, “We are running out of time aren’t we?”
Huixto nodded. “Every minute we waste allows the Unnamed One to gather strength. He has already taken a human sacrifice, and based on the information from our spies, Este is almost completely under His control.” She paused a moment, “But we have word that your Priestess of Births escaped the temple and is in hiding in the city.”
Setch felt her eyes sting with tears. It was a relief to know that Drioux still lived and with her the Sisterhood. As she thought of the Sisterhood, her mind was again flooded with information.
Unnamed One tamed? Tempered by the pain and blood of births. The Sisterhood of Dawn was formed to prevent the Unnamed One from seeking restoration in His original temple. The symbols associated with both the Unnamed One and Zel are almost identical, substituting the benign ear of corn or flowers for the original spear. These symbols are still found in some of the oldest friezes with the Temple of Dawn located in the City of the Jungle. The later temple, in the City of the Lake, lacks this iconography. The Ritual of Slumber passed down from Eldest Sister… No record found.
Setch groaned as the information filled her mind, while they crowded out her own thoughts, but she realized that the information was at least becoming more coherent. “Stop” she gasped. The flow of information ceased.
Huixto looked at her questioningly.
“It seems the trepantrix has information about the Sisterhood of the Dawn, at least its origins.” She closed her eyes. “Do you know where Drioux is hiding?”
Huixto’s face took on the blank expression that Setch was becoming accustomed to; after all, she probably bore the same expression when her trepantrix began screaming at her.
Huixto’s eyes refocused. “We do not know her location yet. We continue searching.”
Setch stopped herself before she nodded, knowing the movement would only exacerbate her headache. “Please keep searching, she may have information that I will need. I need to know about the Ritual of Slumber, and it is connected to the Sisterhood.”
Huixto grinned, “I will have our records searched for this ritual, and we will continue to seek your Priestess of Births.” Huixto helped Setch to lie back down, “Prepare yourself for some strange dreams. Most trepantrices become more active while we sleep. It is easier on our brains that way. Pay attention to the dreams. They will undoubtedly contain the information we need.”
“Thank you for the warning,” Setch said closing her eyes as exhaustion swept over her. “I will try and remember my dreams.”
Setch slept and true to Huixto’s warning, her dreams were a jumble of images, words, and information. In her dreams, Setch saw the chair stolen from Suyu lands by the Priests of Midnight. They brought it to the City of the Jungle. She read the fragments of the text on the back of the chair. Even with the vast amount of knowledge stored within the Temple of Midnight, only a few words were decipherable. One of them was war, the other was annihilation. Her mind was filled with the results of tests and experiments she could barely grasp the purpose of. The results were all meaningless to her. She watched a painfully young Anacoana, still a novice by her dress, grow more and more obsessed with the chair. And finally, her dreams faded and Setch slept.
Teo waited anxiously for Huixto outside of Setch’s room. “How is she?”
Huixto smiled, “The procedure went flawlessly. She should be able to control the device soon. She already requested more information. I have the Gray Priests searching all our archives now.”
The two women walked in silence a moment. “And her child?”
Huixto nodded, “The baby is fine. I checked myself.”
“Can you tell if the trepantrix has altered the child?”
Huixto shrugged, “I have no way to test for changes in the child. Anacoana carried her pregnancy to term, and we cannot be certain that it was the trepantrix alone that changed her daughter. Metzli may have been changed by her mother’s experiments with the chair. Her madness may have had nothing to do with the trepantrix.”
Teo shuddered, “Metzli was not only mad. She was uncontrollable. Her gifts were powerful beyond measure, but utterly outside of any control.”
Huixto frowned, “Yes, but her son, Neldo of the Temple of Twilight, is fine. He is not mad and seems to bear very little by the way of any gifts. By all accounts, even his gift of prophecy is too weak to be of any real account.” Huixto paused and let Teo consider her words. “Teo, it had to be done, for all our sakes. If Setch’s child is harmed, it is a small price to pay. We told her the risks and Setch willingly lay on my table.”
Teo grimaced, “We did not tell her about Anacona’s daughter. We only told her the pregnancy remained viable and the child was born alive.”
“If Setch did not question that further, it is not our concern. Teo, is her child really worth more than all our lives?”
Teo shook her head sadly. “No, I cannot hold the life of one child above the lives of all the Cetza. I can only pray for forgiveness for what we may have done to that poor woman.”
“Do what you must to ease your conscience, but remember Setch chose this.”
Teo did not answer as she walked away.