Soshay managed to gain control of her emotions when Keron led her from the altar room. She sniffled and wiped at her eyes. She continued to let him hold on to her. Tez had no interest in Chacon, but Soshay could not easily follow his edict to forget about her. She tried to tell herself that Mitlan and Keron would send a warning to Chacon and that there was nothing more she could do. But she wanted to do more, wanted to keep her sister from being sacrificed to the Corruptor.
She knew that she should be focusing on finding a way to get to Setch as soon as possible. That at least was a problem she could tackle. She could do nothing about Chacon’s fate, but getting to Setch was a problem she could solve. The first impediment to getting out of the temple, Soshay realized, was getting Keron to leave her alone.
She finally noticed that he was not leading her toward her room.
“Keron, where are we going?”
Keron smiled gently at her, “To your new rooms. You didn’t expect to stay in the novice room, did you?”
Soshay frowned, “I hadn’t thought about it at all.” She began tracking the path, finding familiar hallways. From here, she was certain that she could find her way to the courtyard and from the courtyard, the door that led out of the temple.
Keron stopped in front of a door and opened it, “Your new chambers.” He paused, “I had hoped that you would be entering them in better spirits.”
She glanced at him, “You will tell me when the messenger to Chacon returns?” All her fear started to flood back. She forced herself to take a deep breath, forced herself to be calm.
Keron nodded, “As soon as I hear anything, I will let you know. Are you certain that what you saw will happen so soon?”
Soshay paused and shook her head. “There was nothing in the vision to indicate when the events will occur.” She knew that when a vision would occur was difficult to predict. What she saw could occur in an hour, a day, or a year. If Tez had not told her there was nothing she could do about the vision, she would be willing to consider it happened in the future. But His insistence that she forget about what she saw, convinced her that the events would come to pass soon. “It just feels like it will occur soon.”
Keron looked serious, “Don’t forget the problems that occur when we are emotionally invested in a vision. This is your sister you saw. It is bound to impact you emotionally and that hinders our ability to interpret what we see.” He tightened his arm around her. “I’ve been guilty of allowing my emotions to impact my interpretation of a vision too.”
She looked at him and read the concern in his dark eyes. She leaned into him and realized that his presence was a comfort. She wanted to believe that he was right and that her sister was in no immediate danger. “It probably doesn’t help that I am exhausted.” She tried to smile, to make light of her fear.
“Come, let me show you your new rooms. Then you should rest. After my initiation, I wanted to sleep for a week.”
She entered her new rooms, and found herself in a spacious sitting room, furnished with a low table and chairs. She noticed all of the furnishings were of good quality and new. The walls were freshly whitewashed and around the top of the walls, ran a mosaic of black jaguars. One she realized was a twin to Keron’s. She forced herself to comment on the room. “It is lovely.” She said.
Keron smiled, “I’m glad you like it. Mitlan wanted to give you,” he paused as if searching for words, “More opulent rooms. I didn’t think you would be comfortable with that.”
Soshay found herself smiling in return. “With my new clothing, I’ve had enough of opulence to last a lifetime.” She gestured at the heavy tilma she wore. “This must weigh forty pounds.” She laughed as he helped her to take off the garment.
As his hands brush against her bare arms, she felt suddenly shy with him. In the Chamber of Trials, she had felt comfortable with him, now it seemed like she should know how to act, but she did not. “Keron,” she paused, “I find that I don’t know how to be around you.” She looked at him to see if he understood.
She was surprised to hear him laugh. “Oh Soshay, I’m glad that I’m not alone.” He ran his hands through his hair and looked at her. “I don’t know what to do either. Before last night, I’d never,” he paused and blushed.
She found her smiling in return and some of her nervousness receded. She began to believe that they could find a way to navigate their complicated relationship. She tried to hide a yawn but failed.
His smile turned to concern, “I should let you sleep. Rest now, I’ll return as soon as I hear about your sister.” He moved toward her and enveloped her in an awkward hug. He kissed her forehead, “We will talk more when you are rested. I can stay if you wish.”
She heard the whisper of Tez’s voice, reminding her of the urgency of in leaving the temple. She quickly shook her head at Keron. “No, you should go. I think I need to be alone.”
He stood at the door a moment, the longing in his eyes clear. His voice grew soft. “I will see that a meal is sent to you, too.”
She hated to hear the longing in his voice. She wanted nothing more than to stay with him, but she knew that she could not. Not only because she planned on defying the High Priest, but because Tez did not want Keron at the ritual.
She knew that Keron would never directly violate Mitlan’s orders, just as he certainly would never risk defying Tez. But what, she wondered, would he do when those orders were in opposition? Until now, she knew that he had walked a fine line in serving both masters. “Please, as soon as you hear anything, send word to me.” She tried to soften her words, to keep the frantic tone returning to her voice. She was afraid for her sister and terrified of what Mitlan would do when he learned that she violated his orders.
Keron nodded and left her alone in her new rooms.
She passed through to her bedroom, interested in nothing more than changing her clothes. She barely registered the massive bed covered in opulent bedding. She found a private bath, like the one in Keron’s chambers beyond the bedroom. The stone chamber was not large, but it held a large tub of smooth obsidian.
She turned on the water, letting the tub fill with steaming water. The bath she had longed for ceased to be a luxury and became only another obstacle to leaving the temple. But as she slid into the hot water, she could not hold back her sigh. The heat soothed all the aches from her time in the Chamber of Trials. She had not realized how sore she was until the water covered her. She reminded herself that time was growing short, as she felt herself drifting toward sleep. She struggled to keep her eyes open.
She jerked up from the water, all trace of sleep gone. Her eyes widened when she saw the priestess from the Temple of Midnight. The woman stood only a few feet away but seemed blurry to Soshay. Maybe this is a dream, she wondered.
“Time is short. Setch cannot come to you, but she hopes that you can come to her.”
Soshay nodded, her mind racing trying to understand how the priestess could communicate while far-seeing. “Tez has already told me that I must go to Setch. I had planned on coming to the Temple of Midnight tonight.” She managed to stutter. “But, I thought it wasn’t safe to travel the otherworld?”
The woman smiled, “It is not. I take a grave risk coming here. But you cannot come to the Temple of Midnight.” She paused, “Mitlan would never forgive us for that.”
Soshay nodded in understanding. Mitlan had forbidden her to leave the Temple of Twilight and had told Teo as much. If she accepted Soshay into her temple, Mitlan could and would Soshay realized, cause no end of trouble for the Temple of Midnight.
Teo continued and told Soshay as much of what Setch had discovered and pieced together as she could. “Tonight by midnight, ask Telmax to bring you to the house with the fountain.” She smiled, “He will know it. I cannot risk guiding you there myself.”
Soshay nodded feeling cold despite the hot water in the bath. The amount of information that Teo had given her was overwhelming. “Can you risk something else?”
Teo shot her a questioning glance.
“It is important, My Lady. I had a vision. The Priestess Chacon, she serves in the Temple of Noon. The Corrupter seeks her harm.”
Teo frowned, “Setch has mentioned her today as well. I cannot understand why He would be interested in Chacon, but hearing her name twice today cannot be a coincidence.”
Soshay began to shake as the vision started creeping back into her thoughts. “He wants Chacon to be His High Priestess. I think in this, He wants to bind Mat to His cause. And after my last vision, the Corruptor is a dire threat to Mat.” She looked imploringly at Teo, “I sent a messenger to warn her, but I don’t know if the message will get to her in time. Could you…”
Teo interrupted, “I will try. Entering the Temple of Noon is not an easy task, even for me. I will do what I can, and you must do everything in your power to meet Setch tonight.”
“Travel safely, my lady,” Soshay whispered and watched the figure blur further and disappear. Soshay knew she had a few hours until she must leave, but hurried from the bath.
After drying off, she went in search of clothing and found all of her novice clothing was gone. The cupboard that held her clothing was filled with the gowns, skirts, and blouses that all rivaled the tilma Mitlan had presented her with. It seemed that everything was gilded, bedecked with feathers or jewels, and to Soshay’s eyes utterly impractical. She pulled out the plainest skirt and blouse she could find. The fine indigo cloth was shot through with silver threads, but at least it had no feathers or jewels.
She sighed wrapping and tying the skirt and pulling on the blouse. Her old ritual tilma had been brought back from the altar room, and she slung it over her shoulders. It would be conspicuous as it marked her as a priest, but it was better than the heavy monstrosity that Mitlan had gifted her with. She returned to her sitting room to find Pelo waiting with a tray.
“Thank Tez you’re here.” She sighed. “I had no idea how I was going to find you.”
Pelo grinned, “You’ll never be rid of me.” He nodded toward the tray, “Keron thought you’d be hungry.”
She grinned in return and sat in front of the tray. She began eating and in between bites told him of her plans. She needed someone in the temple to know of her plans, in case she had to stay away for more than the night. And she told herself, there was a possibility that she would not come back.
He grew wide-eyed when she told him she was defying Mitlan.
“But… but he is the High Priest. To defy him…” Pelo’s voice dropped, “It is like defying Tez himself.”
Soshay shot Pelo a look, “Mitlan is High Priest, but he is not the only one who talks to Tez.” She pushed the food away, “Mitlan is wrong. I must go to meet Setch.” Soshay shushed his protests, “Please, will you bring Telmax here? Tell him it is an emergency.” She paused thinking of Keron, knowing he would be angry and hurt that she was not including him in her plans. She shook off the thoughts; she could not tell him. She could not put him in danger, and she knew to her bones that if anything went awry, the Unnamed One would destroy them all.
Pelo shook his head at her, “At least let me tell Keron. Maybe he can talk sense into you.”
“No!” She snapped. “I can’t risk him getting…” she quickly stopped herself from admitting to Pelo that she was putting herself in danger. “…from getting in trouble with Mitlan.” She finished weakly.
Pelo shook his head again, “I don’t like it, but I’ll find Telmax.”
“Thank you, Pelo,” She said. “You have been a true friend to me for so long,” she felt the thickness in her throat, “thank you for being my friend.” She blinked back her tears as she realized she may not return from the meeting with Setch and she may never see him again.
Pelo tried to smile and failed. “You’ll tell me all about this adventure when you return.” He said, trying to keep the tremor from his voice.
She managed a nod and Pelo hurried from the room.
Alone, she let her tears fall. Even if we are successful, Mitlan could banish me. He could send Keron away from me. The thoughts filled her with an emptiness she could barely endure.
She had managed to compose herself when Telmax arrived. Her obsidian knife rested on her hip and Zel’s tear hung between her breasts. As soon as Telmax entered, she told him of Teo’s message.
She watched him grow pale when she described the priestess and the house with the fountain. “Will you take me there? Or at least tell me how to get there?”
He closed his eyes briefly, and Soshay wondered if he prayed. She finally noticed that he was not wearing ritual clothing. He wore a plain mantle and kilt. Nothing about his attire marked him as a priest at all. It made her curious, but she had no time to question him about his clothing.
“So, I return to Her, and she finally finds a way to get me back,” he muttered.
Soshay knew the words weren’t meant for her but questioned him anyway. “I don’t understand, you returned to Teo?”
Telmax shook his head and smiled wanly. “Not Teo. Tzi has spoken to me. But I should have known that Her attention would drive my mother to seek me out again.”
Soshay saw the pain in his face. While she did not understand the complications in Telmax’s life, she could see that whatever happened with his mother still hurt him greatly. “Telmax, I don’t want to speak out of turn, but maybe this has nothing to do with your mother. Maybe this has far more to do with your relationship to Tzi and Tez.”
Telmax narrowed his eyes, “What do you mean?”
Soshay paused and considered her words. “We, you, Setch, and I are all tied to more than one god. Setch has submitted to the trepantrix” Soshay was not comforted by Telmax’s sharp intake of breath and his pallor. “I was promised at birth to Zel, but serve Tez instead. We are all bound to different gods, by fate, and by our wills. Setch claims the priests of the lesser gods are needed to defeat the Corruptor as well. All of them serve their chosen gods and the gods of the Cetza.” She watched the understanding cross his face, “maybe that is why you are here tonight.”
Telmax sighed, “I wish Keron had spent less time teaching you the arts of clever words, little sister.”
Soshay risked a smile, “So you can take me to the house Teo speaks of?”
“I know the house, and I’m can’t say I am surprised she choose it,” his words were hesitant, “but he’ll kill me if I put you at risk.”
“Don’t worry about Mitlan, I won’t tell anyone you helped me.” She tried to smile, to make her words light, but she knew she failed. She knew how much his place in the temple meant to Telmax. She was asking him to risk exile.
He shrugged, “It’s not Mitlan’s wrath I fear. Keron will kill me when he learns of this. I don’t say that lightly. He really would.”
She gave him a hard look, “Then we won’t tell him, ever.”
Telmax gave her a disbelieving look. “He’s the High Oracle, he’ll find out.”
Soshay shrugged, “Then I will deal with him.”
“If I refuse, what will you do?” He asked. “Do you think that you will be allowed to walk out the front door?” He gave her a hard look.
“I know about the door behind the shrine in the novice’s courtyard.” She returned his look, “What I can’t do is find the house that Teo spoke of. It is important, and Setch says we are running out of time.” Soshay felt a twinge of guilt for forcing Telmax to help her, but ever since she saw the Priestess of Midnight, the feeling of urgency was growing.
Telmax’s eyes grew distant a moment, and he shook himself. “Setch is right. Time is running out. We only have a few days left.” He smiled at Soshay’s stunned expression.
“Did you think the gods only spoke to you, little sister?” He opened the door and gestured for her to leave, “May all the gods help us tonight.” He muttered and followed her from the room.
Leaving the temple was far easier than Soshay expected. They passed only a few servants in the halls and reached the courtyard without incident. Once outside in the courtyard, Telmax stopped her.
“Soshay, wait.” He said.
She stopped impatient to be gone, knowing that time was passing far too quickly for comfort.
He pulled her tilma closed and clucked in disapproval at her hair. “Unless you want people to recognize you as a priestess, we must fix your hair.” He began pulling handfuls of her hair into hasty braids. He quickly twisted them into the style of a married woman.
The night air was very cold on her bare neck, and she shivered. “Where did you learn to style a woman’s hair?” She asked.
In the darkness and shadows of the courtyard, he offered her a salacious grin, “I told you it is different in the City of the Lake.” He tugged at a stray piece of her hair, “I had a few married friends there.”
She felt herself blush, “So marriage vows mean nothing there?”
Telmax shrugged, “They mean very little here as well. Just as some priests remain pious, more do not.” He tugged at her tilma until he was satisfied it would stay closed. “And In the Temple of Midnight, we didn’t have such foolish rules about partners.” He tucked a stray piece of her hair up, “You’ll see when you get to the City of the Lake.” He turned and began walking toward the shrine.
“Wait, what do you mean, when I get there?” She hurried after him. “You’ve said that before. I’m not leaving the City of the Jungle.”
He did not pause as he opened the small door behind the statue. “Mitlan didn’t tell you? What did you two spend so much time talking about?”
She glared at him and stepped through the door. She forgot her annoyance at him as she took a step away from the door. The tons of stone of the ziggurat loomed behind her. The Plaza of the Temples stretched before her, empty at this late hour. She gasped at the vastness of the open space. She knew that the distance between the temples could be walked, even at a leisurely pace, in minutes, but her years locked in the narrow corridors of the Temple of Twilight made the distance vast.
“Breath, Soshay,” Telmax said at her back. “You will get used to the space after a time.”
Soshay struggled to breathe, the panic that had gripped her during her first visit to the courtyard so many months ago, was far worse outside the thick walls of the Temple. She closed her eyes and prayed to Tez for strength. The tightness in her chest eased and she found she could breathe again. She slowly opened her eyes, but could still feel the weight of the empty sky above her. The space of the plaza felt vast and unfathomable. She shuddered, feeling like a mouse exposed to the hawk. She forced herself to breathe, “I’ll be fine.” She glanced at Telmax and even in the shadowy light, she could see the concern in his eyes. “So, where is this house?”
Telmax took the lead, keeping a grip on her arm.
Soshay forced herself to keep her eyes trained on the ground.
They walked quickly through the silent, empty streets. Their steps echoed across closed storefronts. They passed silently through the marketplace and entered a housing district. Most of the large stone dwellings were dark, but Soshay recognized the grandeur of the buildings. These were the homes of the ruling class. Even in the darkness, Soshay could make out the ornate friezes and decorations that adorned the walls.
He continued walking but spared her a quick glance.
“Who does this house belong to?” She kept her voice a whisper, “This is a wealthy district.”
Telmax nodded, “You have a good eye. He waved a hand at the houses, all noble-born with power and prestige.” His voice was low, but a note of contempt crept into his words.
“So, whose house is this? Even High Priestesses cannot buy a house here.”
Telmax sighed. “No, not even Teo could buy a house here. She was not born to prestige.” He slowed his pace. “The house is mine.”
Soshay stopped walking. “But Teo is your mother. Your father is…?”
Telmax rolled his eyes, “He gave me the house.” He started to walk again and Soshay hurried to catch up.
He glanced back at her, “And no, you cannot ask who he is.” He sighed, “No one can know who he is, Soshay.”
Soshay kept walking trying to unravel the mystery of Telmax’s origins. It was not unheard of for a Priestess of Dawn to bear a child with no father. She realized that she knew very little of the inner rules that governed the other temples. Perhaps, like Zel’s servents, Tzi’s also bore children as they chose. She bit her lip to keep from asking him more questions. For the servants of Tez, children were forbidden.
Telmax finally stopped in front of a walled house. It was smaller than many of the houses they had passed but was by Soshay’s estimate larger than her father’s home. He opened the gate and motioned for Soshay to wait outside.
She could hear low voices speaking from within the wall. Is Setch already here? Soshay wondered, and felt the fear begin to creep over her. Has she learned a way to defeat the Corrupter? She bit her lip, “Tez protect us all.” She whispered gazing back toward the Temple of Twilight, and once more felt the weight of the sky upon her.
Telmax returned and motioned her inside. Through the gate, she found an overgrown courtyard. Plants had been allowed to run riot and dislodge the paving stones. The courtyard felt long abandoned. In the center of the courtyard, there was a fountain. Soshay thought it must have once been beautiful. It was delicately carved out of some translucent, pale stone. It was covered with images of fish and fantastic ocean creatures. Its beauty was diminished by the stagnant, green water. The mechanism that made the water flow had long since ceased working.
“They are waiting inside,” Telmax said, still whispering.
Soshay noticed the others in the garden. A pair of priests clad entirely in black, they almost melted into the shadows. As she walked slowly past them to enter the house she saw that they wore dark masks that mimicked the features of the black howler monkey. Others in dark clothing stood watchful in the shadows.
Soshay looked at Telmax.
“Guards and priests of the Temple of Midnight.” He said without a glance at the figures in monkey masks. He nodded at the other figures, “The priests of Rastban, Itz, Tamait, and others I do not know. He held open the door to the house and light poured out.
Soshay cast a glance back at the silent dark figures before stepping inside, unsure what she would find inside. The interior matched the abandoned air of the courtyard. The adobe plaster had fallen away in large patches, revealing the bricks underneath. Some of the walls still bore mosaics, but tiles had come loose and fallen away. Some furniture remained, but it too appeared dilapidated. A few torches burned in the room, casting it in shadow. It seemed to Soshay that the shadows should hide the state of the house, but the flickering light only served to make the disrepair more pronounced.
Her eyes immediately found Setch. The Priestess of Dawn looked tired and thin as if she had been ill. She sat on a worn chair and was deep in conversation with another woman. At first, Soshay thought the woman was Teo until Setch noticed her entry and both women turned to face her.
“Chacon?” Soshay whispered. “My message reached you in time?”
Chacon stared at Soshay, her face growing pale. “You sent me a message?”
Soshay saw the bruises covering her sister and knew that she had failed to stop the Corruptor’s wrath.
“I tried to warn you.” She took a step toward her sister but stopped when Chacon’s face grew cold. Soshay realized that there was still far too much that lay unresolved between them. She admitted to herself that she still resented Chacon for failing in the Temple of Dawn. Soshay knew that if Chacon had remained in the service of Zel, then she would not have been chosen to serve Tez. Ah, but what would I be if I didn’t serve him? Soshay wondered. Soshay realized that she and her sister could not simply run into each other’s arms and be sisters again, at least not yet. Much still needed to be said before that could happen.
“I am fine,” Chacon hissed. “My God protects me.” She pulled the spotted jaguar skin she wore tighter around her shoulders.
Soshay was not sure if her sister lied. In her vision, she had not seen Mat protect Chacon; what she had seen was that Mat had failed to protect Chacon. The bruising covering her face and arms seemed to belie Chacon’s claims of protection, but as she still lived, someone had saved her from the altar. Soshay knew that no vision was absolute, so maybe it was true that Mat had protected Chacon in the last moment.
She wondered at the jaguar skin that Chacon wore as well. Only the solider-priests wore the spotted skin. Soshay wondered if her sister was truly a warrior, or if like her own new clothing, the priesthood of Mat was creating some new meaning in Chacon’s wardrobe.
“I’m glad to hear that escaped the Corruptor’s wrath,” Soshay said deciding not to question Chacon further, at least about the events in her vision. But, it made Soshay question whether the Corruptor was using Chacon? “I wish my message had reached you time, but I guess it was not needed. I am glad your God protects you.”
Soshay saw Chacon flinch at the last, and was certain that Mat had failed Chacon in something. Both sisters watched each other silently until Setch sighed rubbed at her forehead and said, “Chacon comes to help us. She stands as Mat’s representative.” Setch nodded at the others in the room, “As they all represent their gods.”
The other priests and priestess from the temples of lesser gods drifted over, introducing themselves and their gods. It was a small group, and Soshay wondered why so few of the lesser temples had come.
It was Coliu, priestess of Itz, who first raised the objection to Chacon’s presence. “Can we trust her? Her temple, her priests have been tainted.”
Setch began to object, but Chacon spoke first.
“I serve Mat with the same devotion which you serve your gods,” Chacon’s voice was a whisper. “But, you’re right to question me and my intentions. When He takes control of another, it is difficult, maybe impossible, to tell. It can be someone you would trust with your life, and you cannot know until you are betrayed.” Chacon’s lower lip quivered and her voice thickened with tears.
Soshay thought about the priest of Mat from her vision. Soshay realized at that moment, that the priest who had taken Chacon to the Corruptor was someone Chacon had trusted, and he had betrayed her in the vilest way. The rumor was that Chacon had left the service of Zel for a lover, a priest of Mat. Soshay knew that must have been the priest in her vision, and he had taken Chacon to be sacrificed on the Corrupter’s altar.
Chacon’s voice grew harder, “I am here because I convinced my High Priest that He must be destroyed. I have freely told Setch about the Temple of Noon’s plans to take control of the Jade Throne, and my part in that plan. Yes, we in the Temple of Noon sought to take the chair.”
They all remained silent.
Chacon began again, “We at the Temple of Noon,” she shook her head, “No, I didn’t know what the throne was, at least not then. I only knew how Este used it, but I thought it was a powerful object, not a God.” Chacon fisted her hands in her lap, her knuckles turning white. “I have witnessed the horror that God represents.” A look passed between Chacon and Setch, and Soshay knew that Chacon had told Setch what had happened.
Soshay still was not sure if Chacon was simply hiding what happened out of shame or if she was working for the Corruptor. Soshay glanced at Telmax, wondering how he interpreted Chacon’s story. But she found him staring at Setch and that the priestess had turned her attention to him as well. She did not understand what passed between Setch and Telmax, but it held their attention. As if they were locked in some silent communication.
Chacon also looked perplexed at the silent exchange between Setch and Telmax, but she seemed to put it aside and turned back to Coliu and the others. “I am truly here to aid you all.” She said nodding at each of them. “I know most of the ritual that was used to bind Him to the throne, and I am more than willing to help perform it and destroy Him.”
Soshay narrowed her eyes, wondering how she could be certain that her sister was not controlled by the Corrupter. She let her breathing shift, and felt the slight pull of her spirit. She had never tried to use far-seeing in this way, but she recalled that in her vision the priest who had taken Chacon to the Corrupter had been surrounded by a crimson fog, and so had Este. Soshay wanted to see if she could shift her vision to see into the otherworld. Her vision dimmed, and Chacon’s image wavered. She saw her sister and saw the name of Mat emblazoned upon her.
Chacon offered a cold smile. “They have taught you many tricks in the Temple of Twilight, sister. Do you believe me now?”
Soshay blinked and felt her spirit snap back into place. “I’m sorry to doubt you, sister.” She turned to the other priests, “I do not know if you will believe me, but Chacon serves Mat as she claims. She bears none of the taint of the Corruptor.”
The priestess of Tamait, nodded slowly, her own eyes narrowed. Soshay did not know what the woman saw, or even anything about the Goddess she served. But she watched as the woman tossed bone dice into a cup and cast them into her palm. She looked at the three priests of the lesser gods, “What Death’s bride claims is true. Mat’s priestess is uncorrupted.”
Coliu glanced at Setch before offering Chacon her hand. “We welcome you, as Mat’s servant.”
Before they could continue Teo entered the room. Seeing her in person, Soshay wondered how she had not recognized her as Telmax’s mother before. They bore the similar features and the same coloring, but Telmax’s were prettier, perhaps he got this from his father.
“Soshay, I am pleased that you arrived safely,” Teo said with a nod a Soshay. “It is nice to meet you in the flesh.” Her smile faded when she saw Telmax.
“You came.” She said softly to him.
Telmax jerked his attention away from Setch and gave a stiff nod in Soshay’s direction, “I’m here only for her.” His words trailed off as all eyes turned to him.
Soshay watched him stiffen as Teo looked at him. If I survive tonight, I am going to get his whole story, she thought as the silence descended on the room.
Setch broke the silence and glanced at Telmax, “I think we will have what we need.”
Soshay watched Telmax continue to sit stiffly beside her. Teo did not sit with them and seemed to be debating whether to join them or not.
Chacon glanced at Telmax, “Does your bodyguard stay?”
Telmax raised an eyebrow at her, “Don’t assume you know what I am.” Soshay could hear the coldness in his words. She realized that seeing his mother had changed him and not in a positive way. Soshay needed his charm to alleviate the tension, to help them all work together. This new, angry Telmax would not help at all.
Setch sighed, “Can we skip all the games?” She gazed at each of them. “Our time is short. Chacon, Culiu, Rahsik, and Ozomal this is Telmax,” she gestured at him, “A priest. Not Soshay’s bodyguard.”
Chacon and the others all noted that Setch did not name what god Telmax served. But none asked.
“We are all here to rid the Cetza lands of the Corruptor.” Setch continued, “The Sisterhood of Zel has a ritual, one Chacon claims to know pieces of as well. The apostate priestess Anacoana was involved in the original ritual, I think. And at a priest of Rastban,” she glanced at Ozomal. “And others from the les…” she paused before choosing to say ‘lesser,’ “smaller temples,” she finished.
Rahsik smiled at Setch’s choice of word. “My temple was part of that ritual.”
“I only have access to part of the ritual.” She leaned forward to Rahsik, “do you know the ritual?”
Rahsik shook her head, “We do not have rituals like yours, formal and planned. Our goddess is one of chaos, and to serve Her is to dwell in chaos.” She glanced at the dice still in her palm and tossed them back into the cup at her waist. “I know that we are all needed and that the working will change us and our gods.”
Chacon nodded slowly. “I sought out the story during my time in the Temple of Dawn. I wanted to know how the throne worked, what power it may give its owner. I know some of the ritual, at least the part to summon Him.”
Telmax glanced at Chacon, “I am certain that we can recreate the ritual.” He paused and stared at Setch a moment.
Setch looked at him, “How is what you do possible?” She paused and passed him another silent look,
“In the Temple of Midnight, no one mentioned this at all.” Setch glanced at Teo for confirmation.
Telmax glanced at Teo before he answered, “It is a side-effect of the trepantrix.” He looked back at Setch, “Sometimes copies of a trepantrix allow their bearers to communicate without words. You can see all of the information in mine.” His voice grew softer, “Look for me.”
Setch’s eyes glazed over and she fell silent.
Soshay frowned and moved to help her, only to have Telmax lay a hand on her shoulder. Soshay turned a questioning gaze to him. The mysteries of the Temple of Midnight were a closely guarded secret, and Soshay knew that she was woefully unprepared to try and understand all of what they said. All she was concerned with was Setch’s well-being.
“She is fine,” Telmax said his voice tight. “She is gathering information. Trust me. She will be fine in a moment. Most of them are.” He looked back at Teo, “Will you be able to remove it, mother?” His words turned sharp.
Teo’s expression froze and she slowly shook her head. “You know we can’t. Not yet.” She paused as if searching for words. “Her pregnancy has progressed too far for it to be safe.”
Telmax shook his head in disgust. “You haven’t changed at all. You know she is pregnant. You know what that can do.”
Soshay sat between them trying to understand what they argued about. She finally glanced at Chacon, but met her sister’s eyes and found only a shared confusion.
“Enough.” Teo snapped. “When you left the Temple of Midnight, you lost the privilege of questioning me or Tzi’s will, even if you still seem in possession of some of Her gifts. Setch knew the risks. She agreed.”
Soshay watched Teo struggle to reign in her emotions. Teo stood pale and shaking and Soshay could feel the tension building.
“Tzi still shares Her will and Her gifts with me, and She always rewards those who ask the correct questions.” Telmax’s voice was low.
Before the argument could continue, Soshay broke the silence. “I don’t understand what is happening, but I do know that we are running out of time.”
Telmax turned from his mother, “Chacon, tell us what you know of the ritual and maybe together we can fill in the missing pieces.”
Chacon glanced at Setch’s blank face again and began explaining the summoning ritual.
Soshay paled as she listened. The ritual had to be performed in the otherworld, the spirit world, where the Corruptor would be His most powerful. Soshay interrupted, “But only far-seers can go to the otherworld. I know Setch and Temax aren’t far-seerers.” She glanced at the other priests, only Ozomal nodded to indicate that he was able to travel to the other world.
Ozomal spoke, “I can bring us all to the otherworld.” He ignored the look of surprise on Chacon’s face. “It is a skill of Rastban’s temple to take others to the place you call the otherworld.”
Telmax cocked his head at Ozomal as if reevaluating him. “I would be curious to see this performed. I know of one who has tried this, and he has never been successful.”
“Well, you will get your wish, Witch-Priest,” Ozomal answered.
Setch slowly blinked her face losing the blank expression. She turned to Telmax, “I think I understand now. There is a relationship between our trepantrices. They are connected somehow.”
Telmax nodded, “We now both share the information.”
Setch nodded slowly, “We need…” Her voice was distant and slow. “We need a sacrifice.”
Soshay went and knelt before Setch. “Setch are you alright?”
Setch offered a tired smile. “Yes, Soshay. I appreciate your concern, but I am fine.” She slouched in her chair, clearly exhausted but unwilling to rest even for a moment. “We will need our blood, but we also need objects.” She paused as if trying to remember. Her eyes fell on Soshay’s dagger. “We need that,” she pointed at the knife. She turned to face Chacon, her eyes raking over her, “and your jaguar skin.” She glanced at Telmax, “And that.” She pointed at his chest.
Rahsik offered her dice before Setch could ask, seeming to intuit the needs of the ritual. And Setch demanded a flail from Culiu and a bead from Ozomal’s hair.
Telmax was the last to offer up what Setch asked her, lifting the pendant from around his neck and handing it to her. Soshay saw that it was the stone skull that Telmax wore. She remembered one of her many conversations with Telmax in the Novice’s courtyard. He had told her then that the necklace prevented a far-seer from spying on the wearer. At the time, She wondered where he had acquired such an object, now she suspected it was an object from the Temple of Midnight.
Setch continued, “and of course, that.” She gestured at the strange headdress on the table between them. To Soshay, the object appeared to be a mass of twisted metal and large pieces of the blue stone that Setch had called Zel’s tear. She let her eyes trace the lines of the headdress and felt the power that emanated from its very craftsmanship. She wondered if the headdress was solely an artifact of Zel or if Tzi had a hand in its making as well.
Setch rose slowly, swaying on her feet. “We should begin. Midnight is almost upon us.”
Soshay steadied her. “Are you sure you’re well enough for this?” Soshay could still feel the urgency that her vision had inspired, but she knew the dangers of the otherworld too well to allow a weakened Setch to enter it.
Telmax locked eyes with Setch, “We could wait. You know as well as I do, that we have two more days.”
Setch laughed, “Even if I am not well enough, we must do this tonight.” She waved away Telmax’s protests. “Yes, we could wait. We have two more days, but He is planning something and it will make Him even more powerful.” She looked at each of them, “I don’t know if we can defeat Him after tonight.” She leaned on Soshay for support, “Besides, your High Oracle, Keron has seen me survive this night. I will be fine.”
Telmax began to protest her decision again, and Setch took his hand and his eyes grew distant for a moment.
Soshay watched him pale.
Telmax blinked, “Setch is correct. We can’t wait. The Corrupter has begun the ritual to free Himself.”
Setch turned to Teo, “You should go. We do dangerous work here.”
Teo frowned, “I will take the same risks that you do.”
Telmax shook his head at her. “You have no place here. Not in the ritual or as a witness.”
Soshay saw Teo flinch at his words, but she quickly composed her expression. “I will wait outside with my guards,” she paused and looked at Telmax, “if you approve?”
He shrugged, “As long as you’re not in my house, I don’t care where you wait. But, I would suggest taking your guards and going back to the temple. Outside will not be far enough if we fail.”
Teo glanced at him, the fear evident in her eyes. It seemed like she was going to speak, but she gave a brief nod to them all and left the house. Soshay guessed that she waited just outside the door, and Soshay prayed that whatever happened during the ritual that the High Priestess would be safe. Ohili had told her many times that what one experienced in the otherworld, would have physical effects. She recalled the bruising on her foot after the Corrupter came to her, and recalled the Corrupter’s spear with a shudder.
“Telmax,” Soshay asked, “How can the ritual put Teo in danger? We will be in the otherworld.”
Telmax gave her a tight smile, “When you sacrificed Tenoch, what did you feel?”
Telmax looked chagrined, “Not your emotions, but in the altar room itself, what did you feel?”
Soshay met his eyes, “Power.” She whispered, “So much power. More than the power in my chambers when Tez called the lightening on Neldo.” Soshay thought she understood. The ritual would raise power, and she guessed far more than the sacrifice of Tenoch. “The power we will raise, what would happen if we lose control of it?”
Chacon answered, “It will make Tez’s lightning seem like a witchlight.” Chacon continued ignoring Telmax’s glare. “You’ve felt the power raised in a sacrifice, well that is a raindrop in a river compared to what we do.”
Ozomal adds, “If we lose control of it, lose control of the ritual, there won’t be a City of the Jungle left to save.” He smiled darkly.
Soshay felt herself grow faint and the Corrupter’s vision on the ruined city flooded her mind. She recalled the crumbled stone and empty city. She barely felt Telmax take hold of her arm and steady her.
“Soshay, it won’t come to pass that way,” Telmax said to her.
She stared at him, searching his face, wondering how he even knew about the vision.
Telmax gave her an encouraging smile, “I’m the High Oracle’s under-priest, I can read any vision I want.” He brushed her hair out of her face, “What you saw was not the outcome of this ritual.”
Soshay nodded slowly, wanting to believe him. “What was it then?”
Telmax’s smile faltered, “It is the far, far future, beyond the lives of our grandchildren’s grandchildren.”
Soshay knew that she had to trust him. Now was not the time for doubt, and certainly not the time for a greater analysis of her visions. Already she noticed that Chacon and Rahsik had grown impatient with the conversation and was pacing in front of the backdoor.
Soshay gave Telmax a small nod and turned back to the gathered priests.
Chacon led them outside, to the central courtyard of the house. There was a simple granite stone, and Soshay assumed it had probably been the household shrine. She saw no statues of the gods.
Setch had found her footing and seemed to grow stronger the closer they got to the stone. Chacon began placing the items on the altar. Soshay realized that there was one object to represent each god and each object was placed to correspond with the physical location of his or her temple. The mayor gods taking the cardinal points and the lesser gods in between.
Chacon directed Soshay and Telmax to opposite sides of the altar. The others seemed to know where to stand. Once everyone was in place, Soshay felt the air around them thicken. The ritual is already begun. Soshay thought, and Chacon began to speak.
Her words flowed forth, smoothly and quickly. They ran together and the air began to vibrate. Soshay could only hear the hum of power building. Chacon pointed to each item on the altar and Soshay found herself calling on each of the gods represented.
Chacon picked up the dagger. Soshay began to cringe as Chacon handled her dagger, but as she watched Chacon hold up the blade, the act began to feel immensely right to Soshay.
Chacon raised the dagger and slashed her arm. She held the dripping wound over the altar. She passed the dagger to Ozomel, who repeated the action. Then Telmax slashed his arm. Followed in turn by Rahsik, Setch, and Culiu.
When Soshay felt the dagger pressed into her own hand. The scene seemed to blur and double. She felt like she was outside of it, watching this ritual performed at another time. She drew the dagger down her own arm, and barely registered the sting of the blade. Her blood pooled with that of the others, and the world seemed to shift as if up and down had become reversed. Soshay struggled to continue to breathe as Ohili had taught her.
Chacon glanced at Ozomel and nodded. They all faced him as he clapped his hands together. Soshay could only assume that was her signal to warn them that they were about to enter the otherworld.
Ozomal continued to clap, blood splattering from his cut arm, and Chacon began to chant again, and for a moment, Soshay felt nothing at all. Not the pain she’d come to expect from entering the otherworld, or the disorienting shifting from one world to the next. There was simply, nothing. She forced herself to breathe, to focus and not let fear overwhelm her thoughts.
She felt a sudden pressure, and then, the world snapped back into place. Soshay immediately recognized the otherworld. She saw Setch, Telmax, and Culiu staring wide-eyed at the gray mist that surrounded them. Only the altar remained before them, glowing with the familiar pale, blue light. They stood silently, looking at each other.
Ozomal gave them all a tired smile. “Welcome to the otherworld,” he said and his words echoed across the misty plains.
Setch seemed to shake off her awe and turned to Chacon. “Begin the ritual to summon Him.”
Soshay was not sure if it was the otherworld that changed Setch, or simply that Setch was changing, but her tone carried authority. Chacon did not even hesitate before beginning the summoning chant.
Soshay listened to the words, realizing quickly that they were not Cetza. She thought she recognized the language as Suyu. She found herself echoing Chacon’s chant, and heard the others repeating it as well. As their voices synchronized, for a moment, Soshay could understand the words and knew that they were calling the Unnamed One to them. Then, the world shifted and to Soshay the words became only sounds again.
They turned in unison when the otherworld shifted behind them. Soshay saw the Corrupter and for a moment He appeared miles away, massive but distant, and in an eye blink, He stood before them. Soshay realized that if she turned back to face the altar, that she would be turning her back upon the Corrupter.
The Corrupter wore the dress of the Suyu, bare-chested in the billowing trousers and heavy gold jewelry. The Corruptor’s trousers clung tightly to His hips and flared around His legs. His arms were bedecked in gold bracelets and gold chains were wrapped around His neck.
He smirked at them. “You children dare to call Me?” His voice roared through the otherworld.
Soshay felt the others cringe and stared at the God. “I have heard a true God speak, Lord, and your voice inspires no fear in me,” Soshay responded, her voice steady.
The Unnamed One laughed and it was the cacophony of crows. “So, Death’s Whore is the brave one.” His voice continued to thunder across the mist-filled plain. His spear appeared in His hand, and Soshay heard the hiss of a snake.
The Corrupter turned His gaze to Chacon His eyes glittering. “I had such hopes for you,” He shook His head as if disappointed, “But, do you miss your lover?” He licked her lips and laughed again.
Chacon shook with rage. “You win nothing by taking him!” she spat.
“Chacon,” Setch murmured, “Don’t let Him goad you. He only wants to make you angry. He wants you to fail. Ignore Him, soon enough He will be nothing.”
The Corruptor turned to Telmax. “So you finally show me your face, Witch’s son. You have sought me for so long, am I what you expected?” The Corruptor’s image shimmered and changed. For a moment He became a woman, a beautiful, young Suyu woman in Cetza dress.
Soshay heard Chacon’s sharp intake of breath and wondered who the woman was and how her sister knew her.
Telmax’s lips curled into a slow smile, “This is the image you choose to use to destroy me?” He laughed. “You cannot compare to her.”
Soshay wondered who the woman was, but she saw Telmax stiffen. She wondered why this woman’s image would have any effect on Telmax.
The Corruptor turned to Culiu, still wearing a woman’s form. “And you who watched your temple burn and your lover leave you.”
Culiu laughed, “Fool, you cannot use pain against me. I serve Itz, God of Pain and of atonement through Pain.” She met His gaze without flinching, “I am more intimately bound to pain than You could ever understand.”
The Corruptor’s smile turned into a snarl of rage. “If you utter one more word of your ritual,” He hissed the word, “I will strike you down. I will not be bound again.” His image shimmered and returned to normal.
Soshay drew in a deep breath and whispered a quick prayer to Tez. She turned her back on the Unnamed One. It was the hardest move Soshay had ever made. All of Ohili’s warning rang in her mind. If my spirit is injured, the injury will manifest in the physical world. If I die here, I will die in truth. Soshay pushed her fear away and reached for Setch’s hand. She glanced at Chacon, and she thought she saw respect in her sister’s eyes. Soshay could feel the Unnamed One behind her; she knew that the God was close enough to reach out His hand and touch her. The hairs on her neck raised, and she could feel her vulnerability. I have turned my back on an enemy, Tez protect me now.
Soshay nodded to Chacon, “Begin,” she paused, “If He thinks I fear death, He is a fool. I have lain with Death. I am His wife.” Soshay heard the Corruptor’s sharp intake of breath and realized that the Corrupter had not known about the initiation. Somehow her night with Tez interfered with the Corruptor’s plans. Soshay smiled.
The Unnamed One shrieked in rage, and Soshay tensed, feeling the air move behind her. Soshay expected Him to strike, expected to feel the bite of the spear. Instead, she felt the solid strength of Tez at her back. She felt the ghostly presence of his arms around her and the burning cold of his touch.
Soshay watched the mist behind the others. The grayness began to take color and shape. Shifting and coalescing, heralding the coming off all four gods of the Cetza and the lesser gods.
A resounding crack echoed throughout the otherworld. Soshay felt Tez’s presence diminish and felt a sharp sting in her shoulder.
Rahski gripped her hand, and she saw her grow pale but she smiled. Soshay wanted to turn and see what had happened, wanted to assure herself that Tez still stood with her, but she forced herself to focus on the ritual. The Corrupter wanted them to stop, He wanted them to fail, and Soshay was not going to allow that.
“Begin.” Soshay said again, calmly ignoring the pain in her shoulder, ignoring the emptiness she felt as Tez’s presence diminished.
Chacon began to speak again and the air around them shimmered, the azure light growing. Again, Soshay found herself echoing Chacon’s words.
Soshay saw the Unnamed One move toward Chacon and saw that His spear was broken and bloodied. She continued to chant, but she spared a prayer for Tez. She could still feel his cold presence but wondered what that spear had done to Him.
Their voices continued to gain strength and took on the roar of a full swollen river. Soshay saw Chacon waver, fading out of the otherworld. Soshay realized that whatever the Unnamed One’s corruption of Amox put Chacon at risk, and through her, all of them.
The Unnamed One must have seen the same hesitation and Soshay watched Him slowly begin to smile. He began to speak to Chacon, but Soshay could not hear the words.
Chacon’s voice began to fade; the words began coming more slowly. For a moment, Soshay felt Tez’s presence completely leave her. She gripped Rahsik’s hand tighter, sick with fear. Tez, I need your strength. I do this for you! Her thoughts were a wail of despair. Even the brief loss of her gift so many months ago, could not compare to the utter desolation that swept over her soul at his absence now, in this place.
Soshay helplessly watched Chacon’s expression vacillate between rage and despair.
Soshay looked to Setch and then at Telmax as Chacon finally ceased speaking. Without Chacon’s lead, they could not finish the ritual. Soshay saw the shimmering mist behind Chacon fading back to gray.
Rahsik took up the chant, speaking a language that did not sound like Suyu, but seemed to work regardless. Ozomal began his clapping again and Setch joined him. Still, Chacon faltered.
“Chacon!” Soshay called, “You told me you are Mat’s servant. He will not fail you.” Soshay said, “But you cannot fail Him.” She caught Chacon’s eye and saw the desolation in them. Mat has already failed her, Soshay thought. “You wear the spotted jaguar skin of the warrior, and I am certain you earned it. Prove it again now!”
The roar of a jaguar rang through the otherworld. The spotted jaguar appeared in front of Chacon and slashed at the Corruptor, hitting Chacon in the process. Chacon jerked backward, four jagged claw marks shredding the front of her dress. But the animal’s claws tore into the Corruptor, and He stumbled back away from Chacon.
The mist then coalesced between Chacon and the Unnamed One, and for a moment Soshay saw a man standing behind Chacon. His hair glinted like gold and he wore the pelt of a spotted jaguar. He laid his hand on Chacon’s arm and leaned down to whisper in her ear. Slowly, she joined the chant again.
As they resumed the chanting, the howl of a monkey echoed and was joined by the growl of another jaguar. Out of the corner of her eye, Soshay saw a giant reptile, something like a lizard behind Rahsik.
Soshay felt Tez’s presence return to her. She longed to turn, to see Him, but knew she must maintain the circle.
Soshay felt the air crackling with power, and Rahsik ceased speaking, but this time Soshay knew it was the correct time to stop. Then she heard a voice coming from Setch.
“My Cousin.” Soshay recognized the voice of Zel as it tolled out of Setch’s mouth. “You sought what was Mine.”
Then Zel was there, standing between Setch and the altar.
The Unnamed One whirled to face Zel. They stood in silence, both gazing at the other.
The Unnamed One laughed, “I am not Your Kin. You are but a weak copy of Me, ameliorated by fertility. You have no teeth, no claws.”
Zel smiled, baring her teeth in truth. “You are correct, I renounced My teeth.” She glanced at the Unnamed One, “So I shall have to take yours.”
Zel’s face shifted, elongating, her jaw dropping like a snake’s. Soshay forced her eyes away, unable to bear watching the sickening stretching and shifting of the Goddess’s face.
Soshay heard the Corruptor cry out in pain, and she turned back to look.
Zel stood with black blood coating her face and her teeth were stained with it. The Unnamed One had fallen to one knee, His hand clasped to His bleeding neck. Soshay watched it seep, thick and black, from the wound.
“You think this wound will destroy Me?” The Unnamed One hissed at Zel.
Soshay watched as the wound began to close.
Zel laughed, and trickling, soothing sound that felt like water flowing in a stream. “It is not the wound You must fear.” For a brief moment, Soshay saw the Goddess of Dawn as a great black spider, the huancan, with the hourglass on her belly and her debilitating venom.
The Corrupter stared stunned, and His body began to spasm as the venom took hold.
Zel turned to Setch, “Begin, My daughter.”
Setch bowed her head a moment and began to speak.
Zel dragged the writhing body of the Corruptor to the altar. She placed the headdress, the crown of blue stones, on the Corruptor’s head.
Itz stepped from behind Culcui and used her flail to bind the Corruptor’s hands.
The figure behind Chacon moved and used the jaguar pelt to bind the Corrupter’s legs.
Rastban knotted a bead into the Corruptor’s hair, and Soshay thought she saw smoke rising from the altar.
The ghostly figure behind Telmax took the skull pendant and dropped it on the Corruptor’s chest.
And finally, the reptile that stood with Rahsik shimmered becoming a woman and stepped forward, kissing bound Corruptor.
Soshay felt Tez’s presence move away again, but this time she knew that he went to join his Siblings and the lesser gods. He raised the obsidian blade and without hesitation plunged the dagger into the Unnamed One’s chest. Soshay heard the crack of bone and shook feeling the phantom blood from her sacrifice of Tenoch.
Tez dragged the blade out of His chest. Soshay could see the Corruptor’s heart beating within His open chest.
A female hand, half mist, and half night sky lifted the heart from the Unnamed One’s chest. And with a glance at Telmax, she knew that Tzi held the Corruptor’s heart.
Tez took the dagger and severed the thick, ropey veins and arteries. He stood his pale skin bathed in the black blood, as Tzi handed the heart to Zel.
“We are joined in this my Siblings and cousins,” Zel said with a glance at each figure. She opened her mouth, unhinging her jaw like her avatar the snake and swallowed the heart whole.
Soshay heard her sister’s laughter echo through the otherworld, and then the azure light began to dim. Soshay felt herself slip into nothingness again, and she heard Tez whisper to her and felt his hands lifting her, laying her down. She smelt the coppery odor of his blood and wanted to hold on to him, but found in the nothingness, she had no form.
Soshay’s head was pounding. She tried to open her eyes, and the world spun. She lay on the ground, feeling the cold, hard stone beneath her. She managed a rueful smile, considering how she could learn to far-see without the soul-tearing pain or returning to her body.
“Soshay?” Setch’s voice was thready.
“Setch?” Soshay forced herself to open her eyes. The world still moved, but she forced herself to crawl to Setch. “Is it over?” Soshay asked.
Setch took a sobbing breath, “For you and Telmax. I don’t think it is over for us.” She looked at Chacon and the others.
Soshay glanced at the spot where Telmax had stood. She found him sitting against the altar. “Telmax?”
He glanced at her and nodded to indicate he was alive. Soshay was not certain that any of them were alright.
Soshay looked toward the spot where Chacon had stood during the ritual. It was empty. “Chacon?” she called out.
She was met with silence. Then she realized that Rahsik was also missing.
She tried to rise and her back felt like it was on fire. She reached behind her and discovered her blouse was damp. She rubbed her fingers together and realized it was blood.
“Setch, Telmax, Ozomal are any of you hurt?”
Setch blinked at her a moment, and slowly shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
Ozomal shook his head and looked to Telmax.
Telmax moved slowly checking his limbs. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” He began to rise and fell back to his knees clasping his head.
She struggled to crawl and felt a thin, warm trickle of blood run down her ribs. Ohili warned me about the otherworld. Her spear struck me. She ignored the blood and the pain and continued to move towards Telmax. Culiu emerged from the darkness and hurried toward Telmax.
He still held his head in his hands.
“Telmax?” Culiu touched his cheek, “What’s wrong?”
He gasped for breath. “I will be fine.” He gasped. “The trepantrix, don’t worry. Find Chacon, I haven’t heard her.”
Soshay spared another glance at Telmax and half-crawled, half-slid around the altar. She reached the other side of the altar, and she found Chacon and Rahsik.
Chacon’s dress was bloodied and torn and Rahski was tugging her clothing away from the wounds.
“Chacon?” She whispered, as she reached her sister’s side. She could feel her sister’s breathing and released the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
Soshay watched as Rahsik pushed Chacon’s blouse up and heard the priestess gasp as the long gashes that ran from her pubis to her heart were revealed. Soshay remembered the Maxtli’s spotted jaguar slashing at the Corruptor and hitting Chacon.
Chacon began to stir. “Chacon, remain still. You’re hurt.”
Chacon blinked slowly. “Soshay? Gods are we still alive?”
Soshay nodded, “Mostly, I think.” She watched as Rahsik began tearing strips from her own skirt to bind Chacon’s wounds, “I must get us help. And we have one last task to finish tonight.”
It seemed to take Soshay hours to finally stand, and even longer to make her way back through the house. As she opened the door, the stars told her only an hour or so had passed. “Teo?” her voice was barely a whisper.
She saw figures moving in the darkness and was only a little surprised to see Keron step from the darkness. His face shifted from white-hot rage to fear when he saw her.
Keron enfolded her in his arms, alternately scolding and coddling her with his words.
“We need help.” She said and dropped in his arms.
Setch lay on the stone of the courtyard. She clasped her hands over her belly. Oh my daughter, please tell me you have survived. She could still feel the stir of life in her womb but was terrified of what consequences the ritual could have on the child.
She barely noticed when the priests of Midnight half-carried, half-dragged her into the house. She felt someone ministering to wounds that she had not realized she had.
Voices drifted around her and she fell into unconsciousness.
Chacon let the priests of Midnight carry her into the house. They laid her on a tilma spread over the floor. Her memories of the ritual were hazy, already dissipating like a dream. She knew Mat has appeared and protected her, that he had marked her as surely as Tez had marked her sister.
She ran her hands over her abdomen, feeling the wounds from the jaguar already closed. She lifted her head and saw the marks had become vibrant red scars. She ran her hands over the ridges and felt comforted. He has marked me. I hope I have pleased you, my Lord. She thought in prayer and again felt the warm touch of Mat on her spirit.
She felt her lips curve into a small smile. One of the Gray Priestesses from Tzi’s temple came to check her wounds. Chacon only shook her head when the woman tried to examine her. “I’m fine. But I would like water,” she paused and added a “please” at the end.
The woman took in her bloodied clothes, but went away and returned with a cup of water. Chacon sipped it slowly, watching the healers tend to Setch, Soshay, and Cului. Setch lay unmoving. Soshay was lying on her stomach and the healers were still wiping the blood away from her wound. Culiu was sitting while her arm was being bound. Chacon was struck by the memory of Soshay bravely turning her back to the armed goddess. She wondered if Soshay’s faith was truly that strong, or if her sister simply desired to join her God in the Underworld.
Chacon struggled to sit up and felt her head swim. Blood still streaked Soshay’s back, but from where Chacon sat, Soshay did not appear to have any wounds.
“Is she alright?” her voice rasped out. She repeated herself before anyone answered.
One of the priests of Twilight tending Soshay looked over at her. His face was shadowed by the hooded tilma he wore, “Like you, she appears uninjured, but I think you all carry your injuries inside.”
She looked away from him in silence, but could still feel his eyes on her. “Is Setch alright? Her baby?”
“The Gray Priests say that both are well, but they are concerned that time in the Otherworld will…” he paused searching for the right words, “may change the child.” He offered a tired smile.
“Can they wake Setch?” She asked, “We have work to complete.”
Even with his features shadowed, Chacon could see that the priest looked pained, “You are more like your sister than I expected. She has insisted on the same.” He smiled at her annoyed expression, “The Gray Priests are loath to wake her, but they can if they must.”
Chacon struggled to stand. “As soon as Soshay can stand, wake Setch.”
Chacon hated the weakness she felt in her legs. She knew she swayed slightly on feet, and she knew it made her look weak to everyone in the room. She scanned the room and quelled her disappoint when she found none of the Priests of Noon had come. She told herself that The High Priest knew of the ritual. And if he declined to send anyone, then it must be Mat’s will. She blinked back her tears. To be strong, to be self-sufficient was to serve Mat; she said and repeated the mantra of the Temple of Noon. But, she was exhausted and every part of her hurt. Her head throbbed and she wanted nothing more than to sleep for a month.
They all looked tired, she noticed, except she noticed the priest of the monkey god Rastban. His arm had been bandaged, but he looked hale and rested.
She took a few faltering steps towards an empty chair and felt herself stumble. The hooded priest kneeling next to Soshay rose to help her. She bristled at his touch but accepted his help.
She watched the other priest of Tez help Soshay to stand. His face was familiar, and she realized that he was the High Oracle. Her sharp eyes noted his concern and attention, and she recognized all the signs of love. So the high oracle loves his student, her thoughts began to churn, I can use this. She felt a slight stab of remorse at her thoughts. Am I so truly Este’s creature, that even now I plot and scheme? The thoughts shook her, and she turned away from her sister and the High Oracle. Let them have their moment. I cannot use love against another, even if I am no longer Zel’s servant.
She looked at the man who had helped her. His hood had fallen back when he rose. His back was turned to her, but she stared fascinated at his hair. It was the color of weak tea and shot through with gold. He turned to face her, and she could not contain her gasp. His features, the exotic shape of them all echoed the image of Mat himself.
She gaped at him, “Who are you?” her voice was a whisper.
He smiled at her, “I’ve asked the same question about you for a long time. I’ve sought you in the otherworld for years.” His smiled broadened at her shocked expression. “But, I am not who you think. I am only Ohili.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, “You sought me?” She felt herself stumble, and she hated the weakness she felt in her legs.
He nodded. “But that can wait for another day. You said that you all have worked to finish.”
She could hear a faint accent to his words, but she could not place his origin.
He continued to smile at her, and she started to feel that he knew some joke that she was not part of. She broke the silence, “How fares the Priest of Twilight?”
Ohili’s smile faded and his eyes drifted across the room.
Chacon followed Ohili’s gaze and found Telmax seated on the ground, his head in his hands. Teo, the High Priestess of Midnight, rested her hand on top of his head and was whispering something.
Chacon glanced at Ohili, “Can they do anything for him?”
Ohili looked back at her, “They are doing all they can.”
Pain tore through Telmax’s head. It seemed to grow worse every second. He felt the pressure of a hand on his head, touching the spot where he wore the trepantrix. For a moment he believed he heard the whisper of Tzi in his ear.
Trust the pain will cease. Be patient.
He kept his eyes closed against the pain and slowly recognized his mother’s voice.
Through the pain, he began to recognize the magic she worked. She sought to take the information from the trepantrix into her own. He forced his mouth to move, forced himself to speak. “Stop.” His voice was barely a whisper. “Stop, you cannot take the information.”
He forced his eyes open and tried to take Teo’s hand away. She kept her hand on his head but ceased speaking.
“I must. It will kill you this time.” Her voice was thick with tears. “He may have been defeated, but He will kill you to punish me.”
Telmax locked eyes with her and was surprised to see that she was crying. “No mother, it won’t kill me. This is Tzi’s will.” He felt the pain receding and took her hand away from his head. “She restored my trepantrix, and She wants me to keep it.” His voice was low.
Teo stared at him. “She still speaks to you?”
Telmax started to nod, but the jolt of pain made him stop. “Yes, She does.” Telmax continued to take deep breathes and continued to hold on to Teo’s hand.
“I never wanted to put you at risk my son.” She whispered to him.
“I know that now.” His voice was weak.
The priestess of Itz joined them, and she took his hand. The pain in his head ebbed. “Let me take some of the pain,” She said.
He wanted to say no, but as the pain lessened, he knew he could not. “Thank you,” he whispered and saw that Ohili was helping Chacon walk towards them. He offered his friend a tired smile. “So my old friend, I know what brought Keron here,” he cast a glance at Soshay, still struggling to stand, “Did you come to keep him from killing me?”
Ohili narrowed his eyes at him, “Since you still live, I guess I will have to.” His words were tinged with real concern.
Telmax gave a weak laugh, “Once he’s convinced she is alright, he will kill me.”
Chacon sighed at their banter, “We still have work to do, and if you insist on this pointless jesting, I may kill the both of you.”
glared at her, “I don’t doubt that you would.”
But he noticed that Ohili tightened his grip on Chacon’s arm.
Soshay leaned heavily on Keron as they walked through the silent streets. She was exhausted and her back ached, but she had managed to calm him, somewhat. She could feel the tension in his muscles and wondered if he would forgive her. He had not spoken since she told him they had to go to the Temple of Dawn. She stumbled along at his quick pace.
He sighed and slowed, “I’m sorry.” His expression was chagrined. “But you have no idea how terrified I was to find you gone tonight.” He tightened his grip on her, “Never leave me again.”
Soshay watched the dark houses, afraid to look at him. She wasn’t sure if she was more afraid to see fear or anger in his face. “You would not have let me go.” Her voice was quiet.
He remained silent and slowed his pace further as she stumbled again.
Soshay watched Chacon being helped along by Ohili. She wondered about his choice to help her, and why no priests from the Temple of Noon had arrived to help. Their absence made her questioned Chacon’s claims that the High Priest of Mat knew what she had done. She walked, wondering if the priests of Noon were as willing to see the chair destroyed as Chacon claimed. She shook her head considering what type of punishment Chacon may endure for her sacrifice tonight.
Keron noticed her movement, “What are you thinking?” he asked, his voice softening.
Soshay risked a glance at him and saw that he looked concerned but not angry. She nodded her head toward Chacon. “My sister, she claims the Temple of Noon sent her to help us, but none of their priests are here.” She lowered her voice, “I wonder if she lied.”
Keron smiled at her, “If she did, it’s no concern of yours.” He paused considering the ramifications of Chacon’s actions, “If she came unbidden and the High Priest of Mat did not approve the destruction of the Unnamed One, she may be exiled.” He shrugged, “But, she is clever, your sister, I imagine she could talk her way out of any circumstance.”
Soshay nodded and forced herself to keep walking as they entered the temple plaza. Since the ritual, she had not felt the presence of the Unnamed One. The memory of Zel devouring the Unnamed One’s heart floated through her thoughts. Is He destroyed, or only consumed? She gazed at the darkened mass of stone that was the Temple of Dawn and wondered what would happen to the benevolent goddess of fertility who had eaten the heart of a destroyer. She shivered as they stepped onto the stones that paved the way to the Temple of Dawn.
According to the Priests of Midnight, no one remained in the temple except Este and a few guards. The last priestesses had fled or been sacrificed to the Unnamed One. The temple loomed darkly before them. The entire procession stopped at the doors seeing a small group of priestesses of Zel.
Soshay watched Setch’s exhausted face transform. Setch reached out and clasped the hands of one priestess. “Drioux, my friend. I thank Her for your survival.”
To Soshay’s eyes, the woman looked ill, pale, and withered, but from Setch’s response, she was clearly important to the temple.
Setch turned from Drioux and faced the priestesses of Dawn with strength. “My Sisters,” her voice was tired but strong. “We have faced the Corrupter in the otherworld” she gestured toward Chacon, Soshay, and Telmax “The combined efforts of all of the Cetza gods, even the lesser gods, has caged the Corruptor. You have felt the darkness He spread throughout our temple. With the grace of Zel and Her Sibling Gods, the only true Gods, we have vanquished the Unnamed One.” Her voice began to gain more strength, and she seemed to glow from within. “Know this; the Unnamed One was no god – only a malevolent entity, something foul and foreign from the Suyu lands.”
Setch turned to Soshay and the others, “My Sisters and Brother in faith, without your aid, my temple would have fallen. Know that you have the blessings of Zel and as High Priestess of the Temple of Dawn, know that there will be peace between all of our temples.”
Soshay shivered to hear the words. They rang with power and Soshay wondered what consequences they would have. While it was heresy, Soshay knew the Unnamed One had been a deity, something with power equal to any of the Cetza gods. She questioned what consequences Setch’s lie may have on the Temple of Dawn. However, Soshay took solace in hearing Setch name the lesser gods, and honor them for their service.
Soshay caught the slight flinch in Setch’s expression and saw her fighting the glazed expression. Setch shook off whatever was happening to her and opened the doors to the Temple of Dawn.
Soshay held Keron’s arm tighter as they walked inside. Their footsteps echoed throughout the chamber. Chacon cringed as she crossed the threshold. Soshay caught her eye and offered her an encouraging smile.
They followed Setch into the altar room. The room stank of rotting fruit and blood. The floor has stained dark pools that Soshay wanted to pretend were from animal sacrifice and not the priestesses of Zel. Soshay watched Chacon turn her face from the altar, pale and shaken.
Telmax visibly shuddered and caught Soshay’s eye. Both of them could feel the darkness within the temple. Soshay watched Chacon’s eyes wander over the desecrated temple. She tried to imagine what it must have looked like before the Corrupter before it had become fouled and filthy.
Setch raised her hands and began in invocation to Zel. The words filled the space, echoing off the stone walls. The Priestess of Zel took up the chant, forming a pitifully small circle around Setch.
Are they the only priestesses left? Soshay wondered, Maybe the others are still in hiding and will return… She recognized the thoughts as wishful thinking. Este’s use of the throne had decimated the population of priestesses. How many were sacrificed here to the Unnamed One? What sort of power Had he drawn from their deaths? She remembered the power she had felt from the sacrifice of Tenoch, the strength of the vision that had followed. He, like the priestesses, had been an unwilling sacrifice. She shivered finally understanding Mitlan’s motives for making her perform the sacrifice. Soshay was not sure that she forgave him, but she better understood the need to raise power that had driven him.
When the chanting finished, the room felt cleaner to Soshay. She took a step away from Keron and walked on her own to Setch. She stood by her side and waited for the others to join them. They stood together, and Soshay raised her arms.
She began a prayer to Tez, asking that he care for the spirits of the slain priestesses. She saw that Setch approved. Chacon offered a similar prayer to Mat, calling upon him to reward the warrior spirits of the slain priestesses. Telmax hesitated a moment, his eyes finding Keron. His prayer to Tzi was quiet at first.
Soshay caught Keron’s shocked expression and silently implored him to understand.
Telmax’s voice gained strength as he finished the prayer, but Soshay noticed that he would not look at Keron.
Ozomal and Rahsik offered the blessings of their gods before Culiu spoke.
She called upon Itz to accept the pain they had all suffered and to grant them healing.
Soshay watched Setch and the priestesses of Zel wiping away tears. Setch turned to the priestesses, “My Sisters, we must remove the cursed artifact from our temple and see it destroyed.” The women nodded together.
They all followed Setch through the temple to the audience chamber. Soshay felt her breath catch as she realized that this room was once glorious. The colored glass windows, the malachite floor, and the intricately carved mosaics, all pointed to a richness, but a richness born of devotion. The opulence was overwhelmed by the destruction in the room.
The remaining guards all sat around the grand table. Each a smoldering husk of a man. Some power had burned them to greasy bone and sinew. Soshay heard Keron’s gasp of horror seeing the men. A young priestess still lay on the table, eviscerated.
Soshay finally forced her eyes to the chair. It dominated the room, a massive piece of jade, pale green like spring leaves, but it was the woman in the chair that captured Soshay’s attention.
She had never met Este, but she knew without a doubt that is was she who sat in the chair. She must have been very beautiful, once. Soshay thought, taking in her regal features. Her clothing and hair were ornate, luxurious, and beautiful. Soshay tried to tear her eyes away but found herself staring into the empty eye sockets of Este. “What happened to her?” she whispered.
“She was struck down by Zel’s wrath for her heresy. She violated her sacred duty and was burned by Zel’s fire.” Setch replied with confidence. “And now we must burn them all.” She gestured toward Este and the slain guards.
The Priestesses of XoQzal slowly began the process of prying the burned bodies from their chairs and laying them like kindling around the chair. They hesitated to touch the sacrificed priestess. Setch intervened.
“Her too. It will be her final defiance of the Unnamed One. Her body will help turn this accursed relic to ash.” Setch said, directing the women to move the body. Setch decline to let anyone other than the servants of Zel help with the preparation. She kept repeating they were to bear witness to the cleansing of the temple, but not to interfere.
Finally, the priestesses began breaking up the heavy wood chairs around the table. Soshay ached to help them. All of the women looked ready to collapse from the emotional strain and simple fatigue. She noticed her concern echoed in Keron’s gaze. They both stood silently and watched as the priestesses started the fire.
It burned slowly at first. The heavy wood of the chairs made for poor kindling. As the flames slowly licked their way over the chairs and the bodies, Setch began another prayer.
Soshay paled to hear her speak of fire, death, and destruction in Zel’s name. So this is the consequence of Zel’s actions. She becomes like the Unnamed One. She offered her own silent prayer to Zel calling on her as the mother of them all, reminding her of her gentle nature.
Servant of My Brother, the voice rang through her skull, I hear your words, but destruction, death, pain these have always been My gifts as well. Birth is a battle as real and awful as those waged with weapons. The Unnamed One served to remind me of My true nature. I am the poison serpent that sheds its skin in rebirth, I am the huancan who births hundreds of offspring, and I am the plowed and the blighted fields.
Soshay staggered under the weight of the goddess’s words. Soshay gazed at the fire feeling the tears running down her face. Suddenly the fire blazed, becoming a pillar of living writhing, a fire that stretched to the vaulted ceiling.
Everyone took a few steps back, except Setch. The pillar lasted only a few moments, but it was blinding to those watching. It slowly became a pile of smoldering ash. The windows on the east side of the room began to light up, and the soft yellow light, that should have been warming, only served to make Soshay think of illness. It was dawn.
“High Priestess,” one of the remaining priestesses called out from behind the fire. “Someone lives.”
Setch walked around the dying pyre and returned leading a young woman, wearing a dirty yellow veil. Setch flipped the veil back. “Who are you, child?”
The girl stared blankly a moment, “The memory-keeper.”
Drioux stepped closer and peered at the girl. “She is the novice, Zantin.” She knelt next to the girl, “Child, do you remember me?”
“You are Drioux, the Priestess of Births.” The girl answered her voice dull and lifeless.
Teo stayed a step behind and caught Setch’s eye. “May I examine this girl?”
Teo raised her hands, and passed them over Zantin’s head and face. “This is grave magic.” She furrowed her brow. “I do not know if what was done to her can be undone. She is like a trepantrix of the flesh.”
Setch cocked her head in thought. “Thank you for your expertise, Teo.” She bowed her head at Teo. Setch turned to face the assembled Priestesses of Dawn.
“My Sisters, this child, the novice Zantin, is under my protection.”
Rahsik spoke, “High Priestess, allow me to take the child into Tamait’s service.”
Setch blinked at Rahsik, considering the request.
“I believe that the arts of my temple may be able to heal the child,” Rahsik said.
Setch nodded, “Zantin will remain one of our novices, but she will be taken into Tamait’s temple for healing.”
Soshay noticed that only the priestess, Drioux, seemed troubled by Setch’s proclamation. She watched Rahsik speak quickly to Setch, their words were to low to hear, but both women seemed to be in agreement.
Setch allowed Tamait’s Priests to take the girl away and check her for injuries.
It was then that the Priests of Mat arrived. They swept into the temple, ignoring all but Setch. They spoke briefly with Setch, offering as was customary their warriors as guards.
Soshay tensed, biting her tongue against condemning them for their failure to protect Chacon. She watched her sister stand a little apart from the priests of Mat, and the pain was evident in her face.
“Second Priest of Maxtli,” Setch began, “My temple has had a long history with yours. Zel often favors Mat above Her other siblings.” Setch cast a sharp look at the Second Priest, to silence his disruption. “But no longer.”
Soshay could feel the silence and the tension in the room.
Setch continued, “The corruption in your temple must be purged before the servants of Noon will be considered allies to Zel.” Setch cast a long look over the assembled priests of Noon. “Those in your temple that sought to undermine Zel, that sought to steal from Her, shall feel Her displeasure.” Setch turned to Chacon, “Look to your priestess Chacon, who never once failed in her duty to her God.”
The Second Priest started to stutter a reply, his face growing red with anger.
“Go now, Second Priest – carry Her will to your High Priest. Maybe he has more sense than you.”
Setch turned from the Priests of Noon.
Chacon left with them after offering Soshay a brief goodbye. Soshay noticed that Ohili was quick to slip into the crowd of various priests before the Priests of Mat could see him. She wondered how the servants of Mat would respond to a human who looked so much like their god.
Setch accepted the guards that Teo offered, but allowed only women to serve. She promised to begin training her own guards, once the ranks of the Priestesses of Dawn were refilled.
After a brief, exhausting goodbye, Soshay, Keron, and Telmax began the long walk back to the Temple of Twilight.
In her vision, she stood in the plaza between the temples. The darkness that had engulfed the Temple of Dawn was gone, but in its place, Soshay saw a new path. The Zel of the Cetza people was gone. In her place, was a goddess that blessed midwives and warrior women. No longer did the Temple of Dawn appear alive with fecundity. Now it was divided. Like the images of Zel, fertile on one side and sterile on the other. Yet, there is violence in her that never existed before. Soshay watched the temple in her vision fade and saw an echo of the temple in another city. The City of the Lake. The marvelous city built of tons of stone that balanced on the water of Lake Lan. The City in her vision offered a mirror image of the temple plaza, and even in this image, the strange duality that Zel had become spread a miasma through the lanes and canals of the capital. The palace of the Imperator was divided by the miasma.
Keron gently woke her.
She blinked the sleep from her eyes and began reaching for paper to record the vision.
Keron took the paper from her, “We will record your vision on our journey.”
Soshay offered him a sleepy nod. She struggled from the blankets and cast a bleary eye at him. “Must we leave before dawn?”
Keron nodded, “When the Imperator demands your attendance, and you don’t make him wait.”
“Must Telmax and Ohili stay behind?” She asked.
Keron sighed. “We have already discussed this. As you asked, I will not speak of Telmax’s heresy in serving two gods, but that does not mean I am ready to trust him again.”
Soshay cringed and began to dress. It had been a month since the destruction of the Unnamed One. Keron still refused to see Telmax and most of his conversations with Ohili ended in shouting matches. Soshay had hoped that Keron would forgive Telmax before they left the City of the Jungle. She shook off the disappointment and continued to dress.
In the chill morning air, her back ached. The spear wielded by the god in the otherworld had left its mark. Yet, Tez’s protection had changed it. Between her shoulder blades, she bore the glyph for Tez himself. Unlike her first mark, this one glittered like an obsidian blade.
She and Keron had been commanded by the Imperator to accompany Mitlan back to the Capital. At least Mitlan has forgiven my transgression. I wonder if the Imperator will ever know of it?
She was afraid of going to the City of the Lake. All of Telmax and Ohili’s warnings about the capitol seemed more ominous knowing that she was going without them.
Once dressed, she left the Temple of Twilight in the City of the Jungle and began the journey to the City of the Lake.
Originally finished on February 25 2010 after midnight