Previously: While Setch prepares to meet with Soshay, Tenoch and Neldo continue to scheme against Soshay and her initiation. Neldo, seemingly against his will, has added Tenoch’s potion to the temple’s food, rending all of the oracles unable to have visions. After another meeting with his grandmother, Anacoana, Neldo has begun to doubt Tenoch’s plans.
Soshay has begun her confinement – a requirement that all novices spend seven days in seclusion, seeing and speaking to no one until their initiation.
Soshay began her period of confinement. It was required that all novices remain isolated for the week leading to their initiation. Since her pre-initiation confinement had begun, she had spent more time with her thoughts than she was comfortable with. Never in her time within the temple had Soshay had time to devote to her own thoughts. Always it was lessons and visions. Now, during her enforced solitude, she thought.
Her worries about Neldo and his allies in the temple trying to sabotage her initiation were all too often at the forefront of her thoughts. She trusted Keron, but she questioned what he could do to protect her from Neldo’s wrath. When her mind finished conjuring a wealth of horrors that Neldo could inflict upon her, she forced her thoughts to the Unnamed God.
She had considered all of the information about Unnamed One, and found herself at a standstill. She didn’t know enough about the origins of this god to know what her next steps should be, or even if she needed to do anything. She had given the records of her visions and far-seeing to Ohili and Keron. Certainly, she told herself, they know what to do about Him. But, still her thoughts circled back around to the Unnamed God, the Corrupter, the Destroyer.
When the weight of what she didn’t know about the Unnamed One became too much, she found her thoughts turning to that night at the altar. Her mind skipped over the paralyzing fear she felt when she had angered Tez, but she was still confused by his words. What does he mean that it will be Him? She considered his words, and it finally struck her. “I have sworn myself to Him, of my own will” she whispered and gasped finally understanding what He meant.
Possession by one of the four Gods was rare, but the clergy of the lesser gods spoke foten of the practice. The priests of Rastban courted their god, and possession was a regular part of their rites. Within the Temple of Twilight, prophecy was a form of possession; one where Tez literally spoke through an oracle. She absently rubbed the marks on her arm, Tez’s marks and recalled the day she had been marked, her words of anger, chastising Keron for his doubts. Those had never been her words. She shivered once again recalling the cold presence that had filled her very soul. That had been possession, and the temple scholars did not understand it all. However, Soshay finally did.
He will possess Keron. The vision Keron had will come to pass, but it will not be him; it will be Tez in his body. She felt her eyes blur with tears. I accept the vows I have made, but must it be in his form? She let her tears fall. Is this Zel’s influence? She rules all love, but Tez has no power over love, but he can read my heart, “Why did you let me love him?” She whispered, unsure to whom she prayed.
As she neared the end of her fifth day of confinement, Soshay realized that she could not change her feelings for Keron, nor could she repudiate her vows. She washed her face for the first time in days and changed into clean clothes. When twilight came, she was ready to go to the shrine. She walked slowly through the halls alone, knowing the priests were already assembled in the altar room for the evening service.
The blaze of sunset filled the hallway as she opened the door to the courtyard. The thick walls muted most of the sounds of the city, but she could make out the calls of the plaza vendors and the ubiquitous sounds of the jungle. Parrots and monkeys vied to drown out the calls of the other. She closed her mind to the sounds of the outside and forced herself to take measured steps through the courtyard. After a few steps all she felt was the pull of the altar.
She gazed at the statue of Tez a moment before dropping gracefully to her knees before the obsidian slab. When the sun finally fell below the wall, and the sounds of the city diminished, she began to recite the prayers to Tez. She kept her eyes locked on the statue behind the altar. As she finished the prayer for the third time, she felt the world shift.
She could smell the damp of the jungle, even before her eyes focused on the changed scene. She wondered for a brief moment what happened to her body when she came here. Would anyone recognize my spirit was gone? Or would they assume I am only deeply in prayer? She pushed the thoughts aside determined to think only about Tez.
She stayed on her knees and listened to the sounds of the jungle flow around her. In this other place, the sounds were not muted by walls and remained free of the distracting sounds of the city. The raucous calls of the parrots began to lessen as twilight deepened, but they were replaced by the eerier cries of the monkeys. When she felt the hair on her neck begin to prickle, she knew He was coming.
“My priestess,” the voice rumbled from behind her.
She turned remaining on her knees. “My Lord.” Her voice was hushed with reverence. She kept her eyes trained on his feet, afraid to look at his face. She noticed for the first time that his bare feet did not seem to touch the ground. His steps did not press the grass down as he walked toward her.
“The Corrupter’s power grows stronger within My Sister’s temple.” His words still shook her. “He is no longer only My Sister’s concern, for He disrupts everything in the Otherworld.”
Soshay managed a small nod.
He ran his hand over her hair and she shivered. “Our time will be soon, My priestess.” His voice grew low with passion.
“I serve Your will.” Soshay whispered.
She could hear Tez’s smile at her words. “You must not enter the Otherworld again, My priestess.”
She stiffened, wondering how He had known of her attempts to far-see Chacon.
“My priestess, I know everything in your heart and mind. Even if the Son of the End asks this of you, you cannot enter the Otherworld until the Corrupter is destroyed.”
Soshay frowned, wondering who the Son of the End was. “I will not far-see until you give me leave to do so, My Lord,” she paused and swallowed, trying to build up her courage.
She felt his small laugh roll over her like water, soothing her. “Never fear to ask questions of Me.”
She raised her head, her eyes following the lines of his bare chest, stopping at the jaguar skin slung around his shoulders. “Who is the Son of the End?” The name felt strange on her tongue, as if she spoke a foreign language.
“The Son of the End, you call him Ohili.” Tez tilted her head up.
She shuddered, trapped in his amber gaze. It was a legend that if Tez spoke your name, you were a day closer to death. “Do You want me to stay away from him, from the Son of the End?” the epithet tangling on her tongue, her voice already weak.
He smiled, and as before, she saw his face and a skull. “He will help in destroying the Corrupter. Learn from him, know everything about his people. Trust him as a friend and ally, but do not see for him again.” His words turned into a command.
Soshay nodded slowly, unable to do anything else.
Tez leaned forward and kissed her softly. As he pulled back from her he whispered, “I await your initiation into My service, priestess.”
Soshay blinked and tried to force her eyes to focus. She felt an aching emptiness in her chest when she realized she was back in the courtyard. The more time she spent in his presence the more bereft she felt when that time ended. “I abide Your will, My Lord.” She whispered at the empty altar.
She raised her head and felt the ache in her neck from her head being bowed for so long. She knew rising would be agony. She tilted her head from side to side, trying to work out the kinks, before slowly trying to get to her feet. She stumbled slightly, and finally found her footing. She turned back to the altar, and smiled at the statue. “Goodnight, My Lord.” She turned and walked back to her room.
Ohili returned to Soshay’s chamber the following day.
“Ohili!” She could not keep the happiness from her voice. “Are you alright?”
He frowned at her, “What has imprisonment done to you? What would be wrong with me?” He asked.
She shook her head and smiled, “Only a silly superstition.”
He cocked his head at her, “What superstition?”
“If the Lord of Death speaks your name, you are one day closer to death. It is nothing more than a silly legend that children tell to scare one another.”
Ohili paled, “Did He speak my name?”
Soshay nodded slowly, shocked to hear the reverence in Ohili’s voice. She was suddenly afraid again. He denies any belief in the gods, and speaks without a hint reverence, until now, she thought.
Ohili smiled at her, but she noticed it was forced. Ohili said, “As I serve no gods, I do not have to concern myself with any superstitions.” He tried to laugh, but it sounded hollow. “But I waste precious time, time that I have promised to another. I have brought you a visitor.” He paused, “I will remain in the hallway.” As he left, Keron entered the room. He wore his formal mantel and kilt, both glittered with silver thread. The black jaguar skin hung over his shoulders, and Soshay could not help but see a pale reflection of Tez in him.
She had not seen him alone since that night he had come to her room. Here in her chamber, alone with him, her thoughts were flooded with the memories of that night, of his touch, his kiss.
She was forbidden any contact with another person until her initiation. She would never have expected him to defy the orders of the temple. Regardless of the defenses he had made for her, as far as she knew, he had never violated direct orders of the council. Even her lessons with Ohili were not a violation as he had not asked for their approval.
“Soshay,” he began, his face was a mess of emotions, “I… we… there is much we should discuss. I haven’t been able to find a way to speak to you.” He shifted his weight and remained standing near the door. “I wanted us to talk, before your initiation.”
“Please sit.” Soshay whispered, “You make me nervous standing there.”
He looked chagrined as he pulled the chair toward her. He ran his hands through his hair, making the bones and charms clack together. He stared at his feet and began. “I do not know where to begin. I have never forgotten that night, and it haunts me in so many ways.” He looked up at her, and she saw fear in his eyes.
Does he fear my anger or Tez’s? She wondered.
She nodded slowly, “I haven’t forgotten either. But, there is nothing to say about what almost happened.” Through her time alone, she had made peace with the fact that it would not be Keron who came to her at all. This had made distancing herself from that night Keron had come to her room easier, at least she told herself it was easier. She still shivered to recall his touch, his kisses, but she knew all she would ever have was the memory of that night.
“No, there is much that must be said.” He whispered. He started to reach for her hands, but stopped letting his hands fall into his lap. “I had a vision that night. I came from the altar room, still half-crazed with the liuqui. That was the only mistake I made.” His voice dropped lower, “I wanted,” he paused and started again, “I want you regardless of the vision. I would give up my place here to have you.” The words were a whispered rush. “I would renounce Tez for you.”
Soshay paled, this was not what she expected to hear. After her meeting with Tez, she expected to hear no more of this. She had expected that Keron would have come to understand Tez’s will as she did. “I… I do not understand.” She gazed at him, “You came here that night because Tez commanded it, because Tez sent you a vision.”
Keron shook his head. “I had a vision, but when I came to your room, I knew it was the wrong time. In my vision our joining occurred after you became a priestess. We were… we…” he look away, bashful, “We were together at Tez’s altar.”
She opened her mouth, and realized she could not find the words. Keron’s vision told of when He would take her. She shuddered and wondered why Keron saw himself in the vision and did not recognize the God’s intention. She recalled his early warnings during her training, to always avoid interpreting visions about one’s self. Did Keron forget his own rules, or is there something more that drives him to misinterpret the vision?
“Please, Soshay, understand that I came to you knowing it was the wrong time. Knowing that it would not be as Tez ordained, but I tried to ignore the vision.” He paused running his hands through his hair, “I ignored His will because I wanted… I wanted you – not for piety or faith, but for you.” He lowered his head, his long black hair falling forward hiding his face. “I was a fool to defy the vision and Tez. Mayhap it was a test of my devotion, and I think I have failed him.” He raised his head, his hair still tangled in front of his face.
Soshay could hear the loss in his voice. He loses faith. We can’t lose his devotion now, My bride. The thoughts flowed through her mind unbidden. She pushed his hair back and the strands of it passed over her fingers like fine cloth. She wanted to continue to stroke it, but she pulled her hands away. “You have not failed Tez.” She forced him to look into her eyes. “If you had angered him, you would know.” She watched some of the despair leave his face. She took a deep breath and continued, “I failed Him. But he has forgiven me.”
Keron stared at her, “How could you ever fail him?”
“I had a vision or something. It was not like far-seeing or a vision, I was somewhere else with Tez. I think my body was still here, but my spirit was somewhere else. I know during that meeting with him that I angered him.” She felt her breath catch recalling the utter fear she had felt when she saw Tez’s anger, and she pushed the memory away. “It was me, not you. He sent you that vision and has every intention of making it come to pass.” She offered a weak smile, trying to hide her blush. She knew that she was promising that she would one day lie with him as a woman, and was allowing him to continue to believe they would be together.
Keron reached for her hand, “You could never anger Tez,” he paused and traced the mark on her arm, “You are his chosen.”
Soshay felt his touch a million times over. His fingertip alone sent a shock of sensation through her. She swallowed, “Trust me in this, I angered him…” Her voice trailed off as his touching continued. She wanted him to continue touching her, but her fear of the consequences of his touch outweighed her desire, and she pulled away.
“Oh my Soshay,” he sighed and wrapped his arms around her, “I am so sorry about all of this. I should not have frightened you the way I did that night. I should not have left you alone.” He ran his hands through her hair, “I sat outside your room, I heard you cry. It… it was the hardest thing I have ever endured.” He felt his voice break, “Please believe this, I did not come to you because a god demands it. I came because I want you.”
Soshay drew in a shuddering breath, her thoughts ablaze. He loves me? So I am not alone in my love? She ran her hands over his arms, feeling their strength. Does it matter? She wondered thinking of her vow to Tez, there can never be anything between us. “I didn’t know that you…” her words trailed off, “I mean, I never suspected anything other than devotion drove you.” She whispered. “It will happen once I am a priestess, but” she paused and drew back to look at him, “but I fear it will not be the joining you want. It will be done in Tez’s name.” She felt a tear run down her face, “It can never be for us.” Soshay found herself crying in his arms, finally realizing that her heart was breaking. Tez, why have you done this to us? Why let us love and then forbid it?
Keron stroked her hair and back, letting her cry. When he finally edged back, his mantle was wet with her tears and his face bore his own tears. He tilted her face up and kissed her. He held nothing back. All of the passion built up from that night and the past weeks was put into the kiss and Soshay responded with equal fervor.
I want this she thought awash in the emotions. She tasted his mouth and felt his tongue tangle with hers. Without breaking the kiss, she slid into his lap.
His hands tangled in her hair.
She pulled back then, and tried to breath. “We must stop. This cannot happen. Not yet. And not the way we want.” The weight of what would come, of their eventual ritual in the altar room suddenly crashed down on her. It would be a ritual. One she was certain Tez would be manifest at. It would not be this Keron, the man who wanted her with such passion; the man who might love her. It would be the distant god who would use her body when the time came. She tried to climb from his lap, and tumbled ungraciously back onto the bed with legs akimbo.
They sat in silence a moment.
“We will be out of time soon.” She said if only to break the silence. “It is an impasse for us. We will have what the gods give us, and nothing more. Mayhap it will satisfy.” She offered a weak smile.
Keron tried to return the smile, but Soshay saw the glint of tears in his eyes.
He spoke softly, “We were not supposed to love each other, were we?” He continued reading the answer in her face. “Creatures like us were made to endure the passion of the gods, not of the heart.”
Soshay nodded, “It would be easier if my heart beat only for Him.” She laid a hand on his arm.
He stared at her and she watched his face transform with pleasure.
I should not have told him. I should never have let him realize that I care for him. She thought chastising herself. It will only make it harder on him when he realizes the reality of his vision. His voice, impassioned, cut through her thoughts.
“I will protect you at your initiation.”
“No!” Soshay was surprised by the sharpness of her voice, “You cannot. Please, trust me and trust Tez. You have seen our future – it will come to pass, if we have faith.”
Keron began to protest, but Soshay cut him off. “Keron, it must be as Tez wills.” She tried to convey everything in her words. She longed to tell him the truth, that Tez would use his body. But she could not.
Keron nodded, his expression becoming grim. “I believe that your initiation is threatened, that you are threatened by factions in the temple.”
Soshay cocked her head at him, “You mean by Neldo. His hatred for me has only grown since Tez rained the lightening upon him.” She smiled at little at his surprised expression. “But Neldo would never be foolish enough to try anything with the High Priest present.”
Keron smiled, “Ah, Soshay you are wise beyond your years. Mitlan and Tenoch will make certain that your initiation is not threatened.”
Soshay frowned, “The Second-Priest?”
Again Keron nodded, but she caught doubt in his face.
“What worries you about him?”
Keron tried to shrug off the question.
“Keron, you would keep information from me? I thought we were past this.” Her question hung between them. She felt the twinge of guilt knowing that she lied to him, even as she demanded his honesty.
He sighed. “You mustn’t say anything about this, to anyone.” He paused as she shot him an annoyed look.
“Who would I tell? I am not supposed to see anyone for three more days.”
He cringed at her sharp tone. “I suspect that Tenoch is behind Neldo’s plans. I fear that he possesses a great gift, one thought lost to the Temple of Twilight. A gift he has been abusing for many years.” His voice grew louder, angrier. “He always seemed to accept Mitlan as High Priest, but now I must question his intentions.” He paused a moment to compose himself.
“It was a long time ago,” He continued, “and I thought it was only Neldo who still hated me.” She watched him processing his thoughts, “If Telmax’s suspicions are right, Tenoch may well have been working against Mitlan for years. It has only been Mitlan’s distance from Tenoch that has kept him safe.” He turned back to her, “You remember the history of the Great Council to end the Century War?”
She smiled, “Of course, you gave the prophecy that led to the defeat of the Lakiti.”
“That is also when I first met Tenoch. I was impressed with him.” He wore a rueful smile. “He seemed so very intelligent, so very clever with words and arguments.”
Soshay was reminded of her few conversations with Tenoch. He had always been kind to her. She remembered that he once watched her give prophecy. Something about the memory nagged at her. “Keron?” Soshay said breaking through his memory, “What happens when Tenoch speaks?”
“He is a Silvered Tongue.” Keron said flatly.
Soshay thought about her lessons on temple lore and suddenly felt ill. A Silvered Tongue could control those who listened to him. He could make suggestions that the listener would believe to be their own ideas. Her stomach tightened. “He…” she frowned, “But how can any of us know if he has used his gift on us?” Her mind returned to the prophecy he observed. She could almost hear his voice whispering to her, but could not make out the words. “He once watched me give a prophecy.” Her voice was distant lost in thought, “He whispered to me. I can remember that, the sound of his voice but not the words.”
Keron stared back at her, his face clouding with rage. “His blasphemy knows no limits. He tried to manipulate the very words of Tez.” He paced the small chamber in anger. “Do you remember who the prophecy was for?”
She frowned trying to remember. The ghost of the headache she suffered after that prophecy began to pound behind her eyes again. Even thinking about that day seemed to hurt. “A woman, a politician, I think.” She paused and felt the stabbing pain behind her eyes intensify. “She asked about the tithe of crops.” She rubbed at her forehead. “The prophecy demanded the tithe be lowered.” She was overcome with disorientation and fell into the vision, “The crops grow diseased. The tithe must be lowered. The people of the City of the Jungle will grow lean and hungry if the tithe remains. I see crops withered in the fields, some plague of plants crawling over them. Enough remain clean of disease to pay the tithe, but none will remain for food.”
She shook her head to clear the vision from her mind. Her head still ached.
Keron looked grim, “You may have given me the proof I need to convince Mitlan. I must go and secure your codex.” He cupped her face in his hands, and leaned forward and kissing her.
Soshay asked breathlessly, “Why?”
Keron was already rising, “Because I believe that Tenoch will do anything to prevent Mitlan from seeing your prophecies. I fear that he will destroys your codex, and with it all record of your words will be gone.” He cupped her face in his hands, and bent down to kiss her again. “I must have your prophecies to prove what Tenoch tried to do. If it is not recorded as you said today, it is proof he had manipulated temple prophecies.”
Soshay frowned, “What if it is recorded correctly?”
“The tithe was not lowered.”
Soshay considered giving Keron the pages she had of her prophecies. If Tenoch had already altered her codex, they may be the only proof left, but she couldn’t recall if the tithe prophecy was even among her secret records. “Would prophecies in my own hand convince Mitlan?”
Keron stopped at the door, “Have you been recording your own prophecies? You know it is forbidden.”
She nodded, feeling the pain shoot through her head at the movement. “I had to. I didn’t trust Neldo to record them. And now it seems I was right.”
“Keep them safe for now. I may need them, but now I must secure your codex.”
Soshay nodded, breathless. “Go, my Keron.”
He smiled at her. “Never doubt that I am yours.” He hurried from the room, after one last look at her.
Soshay sighed at his retreating form, content to lie back and wait for her head to stop pounding. She was interrupted by Ohili.
Ohili’s eyes flickered over her disheveled appearance. “The meeting went well?” he asked with a sly grin.
Soshay made a face at him, but made no effort to straighten her hair or clothing. “I thought time was short with your magic?” She asked rubbing at her forehead again.
“It is.” He said, “But I wanted you to know I received your message. The Unnamed One walks, and He has set His eyes on you.” His face became serious. “Have you had any visions since last we spoke?”
“One at the shrine last night and one just moments ago that has made my head pound.”
Ohili looked surprised. “Then you are the only one.”
“What do you mean? We have many oracles, have they all stopped their work?”
He shrugged, “Not stopped willfully. They receive no visions, even with liuqui.”
“Is this because of the Corrupter?” At his confused look she corrected herself, “It was what Tez called him, The Unnamed God.”
He stared at her a moment, and she felt his discomfort, his fear of her. “You mention it so casually, that you speak to your god.”
She shrugged, not at all comfortable with the change in his demeanor. She felt the friend she had made being replaced by yet another who would look at her as something more than human.
He must have noticed her expression because he left the question unanswered. “My knowledge of oracles is limited. It is not a skill that can be learned, and it is not a gift that I possess.” He glanced at the hallway. “I know, having sloughed through the frustrating language you all write in, there is no record of the oracles of the Temple of Twilight ceasing to give prophecy. You are the most powerful oracle in the history of the Cetza, not just the Temple of Twilight. I know you do not need it, but I have brought you liuqui.” He smiled in sympathy at her grimace, “It is possible that the Unnamed One, the Corrupter, is preventing all the oracles from seeing the future. This vile concoction may be enough to allow your power to overcome His.”
Soshay considered his words and took the potion. “When I have a vision, do I go to the Otherworld? Like far-seeing?”
Ohili considered the question. “I do not think so. I have certainly never seen an oracle in the Otherworld. I do not think an oracle’s spirit leaves the body. I think the vision enters into the body. Why?”
“Tez, he warned me not to go into the Otherworld. He says the Corrupter has power there. Promise me that you will also cease any far-seeing, until He is gone?”
He gave her a pained expression, “It is the only means we have to left to discover His plans.” He gave a tired smile, “If I must risk my spirit, I will.”
Soshay grew pale. “I don’t want to lose you my friend. I will use the liuqui tonight, only if you promise to stop going into the Otherworld.” She paused, “Tez has spoken your name, even if you don’t believe in Him, you are important to Him. Angering the ruler of the eternal underworld seems foolish, even for you.” She tried to soften her words with the jest.
Ohili stared at her a moment, his own face ashen. “For you, I will stop although I begin to wonder if you are something more than human.” His voice was barely a whisper.
She cringed at his words. “If I have a vision, how will I get word to you?”
He offered a weak grin, “Keron will know. He always knows when you have a vision.”
She growled at him, “You are like an old woman gossiping. Fine then, come back when Keron commands it.”
Ohili laughed. “Ah little cat, keep your spirit.” He rose to go, “I will come back, whether you have a vision or not.” He paused at the door, “I am going to guess that Keron was distracted and forgot to tell you to expect another guest.”
“Who?” Soshay asked, with a rueful smile. The first few days of her confinement had seemed tedious, but now the steady stream of visitors made her miss the time alone with her thoughts.
“The Priestess Setch, from the Temple of Dawn. Keron’s visions have shown the two of you creating an alliance between the temples. She will come, but it will be up to you to accept the alliance.”
“What? What type of alliance?”
Ohili shook his head and placed his finger over his lips, “Time has run out. Seek the answer in your vision.” He called walking down the hall.
Soshay stifled her annoyance. He waits until he leaves to tell me about this alliance? I know nothing of this priestess, or even why I would want an alliance with her. She let her annoyance fill her thoughts, keeping them safely away from thoughts of Keron and his kiss.