Once outside of the Temple of Twilight, Setch reconsidered her decision to meet with the priest, Telmax. She replayed the conversation in her mind; nothing in his actions or expressions indicated he was dishonest, but with priests it was difficult to be certain. For a brief moment, she missed Chacon.
During their training Chacon had excelled at reading people’s intentions and honesty. Both women had received the same training to recognize the smallest physical responses and actions, the twitch of an eye, pupils, eye contact, a million tiny facial ticks that often pointed towards dishonesty. But Chacon, Setch thought, could so quickly process what all the clues meant, and could use those clues so effectively. Chacon could be put into any situation, with any group of people and always manage to not only see to their deepest core, but she could effortlessly become what they wanted as well. I was always one step behind her, Setch mused remembering their training.
Of course Chacon could always hide everything she felt, Setch thought recalling Chacon’s small, serene smile. Even when she had fallen in love with Amox, no one knew. Nothing in her demeanor changed at all. That made it all the worse when Chacon betrayed us all for him. Setch pushed the thoughts away. She glanced about the plaza looking for the Priest of Tez, but did not see him in the crowd. So she walked slowly past the vendors that filled the plaza.
Even in the late hour, now past sundown, the plaza was still bustling with business. The craftspeople lit torches or witchlights, and plied their wares in the flickering lights. Full of beautifully crafted jewelry, statuary, and relics for the faithful, the market was an endless warren of covered stalls and trinkets sold on blankets. Many of the vendors would remain open until those who favored Tzi began entering the Temple of Midnight for prayers.
As she walked, she laid her hand against her belly. A child. She had stopped considering children with her inability to find peace with her work for Este. Maybe had she not given up Coliu the possibility would have remained a consideration. She and the priestess of Itz, used to talk about their desire for children. They even chose men to father their children. It felt so long ago to Setch, almost another lifetime. Now, I carry a child, my child and Qent’s child. A child of my choice, but do I want any child? Her reconnection with Coliu was too new, to tentative for her to rely on the other woman. Besides, both she and Coliu needed to focus on unmasking this new god, and finding a way to be rid of his influence. Already, Coliu was seeing a change in her supplicants. Those coming to her haunted by dreams of destruction. She walked lost in her thoughts.
Telmax’s shadow finally fell over her as she looked over a selection of necklaces. The motley selection had caught her eye, as some appeared to be Zel’s Tears. On a sudden impulse, she selected one for her future child. Telmax waited patiently while she made the purchase and she trailed after him as he walked toward a drink vendor. He purchased them both juice and they sat on an empty bench.
She thanked him for the drink and then launched into her questions. She was not going to let him dictate their conversation. “What do you want from me?”
Telmax seemed surprised at her direct question. “For a spy, you are direct, priestess.” His smile softened the words.
“I am a spy with much work to finish today,” she said, “So what do you want from me?”
Telmax nodded, “You know that Soshay is in danger.” He did not bother to wait for her response, “She has many allies within the Temple of Twilight, but her most powerful ally, the High Oracle, will not be able to help her at her initiation.”
Setch gave a sad smile, “What would you have me do, I cannot help her either.”
Telmax nodded, “I know there is no love between our temples, but I do not seek your help with Soshay’s initiation. We seek alliance with you.”
Setch frowned, “I am only an under-priestess. I have no authority in my temple. I do the work I am ordered to do.” She was surprised by her own bold words, but felt there was something hidden in his words, and Setch wanted to force him to speak the truth. His words are far too careful, too specific, even for conspiracy. She narrowed her eyes at him, suddenly wondering if he was using some sort of magic to make her feel at ease with him. She smiled at the thought, but then, Tez’s priests despise all witchcraft. Tez so thoroughly forbids the use of magic, I wonder that any in the Temple of Twilight are allowed to use witchlights.
“Este cast aside her authority long ago, if she ever had any to begin with.” Telmax said quietly.
Setch felt her jaw drop and quickly sought to recover her composure. “You defame Este?” She hissed at him.
“Yet, you also do not call her High Priestess.” Telmax said, “Rumors of her corruption have become fact.”
She sputtered a half-hearted response. “How… who says this?”
“We all have spies, priestess. And mine are better than most, even those like you.” Telmax answered. “We are both far more than under-priests.”
Setch considered how a spy could know anything of the Jade Throne. It was considered by most as only a chair, a symbol of office. “What do you know of corruption?”
Setch watched his expression grow sad. He gazed across the plaza, his expression empty. She followed his eyes to the Temple of Midnight. She wondered if he actually saw the building or only his own thoughts.
“I know much about corruption and much about abuses of power within my own temple. Too many there seek power for themselves and not for Tez. They abuse their offices and those put under their control.” He turned back to Setch. “I have watched the machinations of Tenoch for years, yet no one else seems to see them.” He looked away, back at the Temple of Twilight, “I have heard of your relationship with Tenoch. I have seen you arrive at my temple,” he looked back at her, “but I doubt you even noticed me.”
Setch shook her head.
“I have seen your face, a serene mask – but underneath I have seen your conscience at war with your orders.”
Setch stiffened and felt the clay cup fall from her hand. She tried to recover from her shock, to hide her confusion with bravado. “You see much Telmax, but how do you know what you see is the truth?” The words hung between them.
He leaned down and picked up the cup. Setch noticed it had not broken in the fall. “It is my gift to see what others ignore.” He held the cup out to her. “Is the cup broken?”
She stared at him blankly. “What?”
“The cup,” he offered it to her. “Is it broken?”
She glanced at the cup perplexed. “No. The cup is not broken.”
He cocked his head at her. “Look,” he pointed to the cup.
She shook her head. “The cup is fine.” She snapped, and took it from his hand only to have it fall to pieces.
He held the shards of the cup out to her. “It was cracked, badly cracked.” He laid the pieces between them. “I see what others ignore.” He shrugged. “And I have seen you, like this cup.”
Setch was shaken. It seemed such a trivial thing, anyone could miss cracks in a roughly thrown cup, but she had been trained since she entered the temple to notice every detail. To have missed something so obvious shook her faith in her perceptions. If I can miss something so obvious and trivial, what else have I been missing? She felt herself pale suddenly afraid that Este was noticing more in her own behavior than she was giving the High Priestess credit for.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Telmax said quietly. “Very few people see what I do.”
She could read the concern on his face. “Is this some strange gift of your temple, or have I been failing to fool everyone?” Her voice was weak, recalling her need to fool Este.
Telmax shook his head, “This is no gift of the Temple of Twilight. It is,” he paused as if searching for the words, “It is something my mother taught me.” He shrugged, seemingly uncomfortable with the conversation.
“Mayhap someday you could teach me this skill.” She tried to smile, but could not manage it. She was terrified to imagine how much she had already revealed to her enemies.
Telmax offered her a small smile, “Setch, what are you afraid of?”
Her voice was barely a whisper, “How much have I revealed?”
Telmax replied quickly, “Very little Setch. As I said, I see what others do not. You give very little away about your feelings or intentions.”
Setch locked eyes with him, wanting to believe him, but still fighting her fears that Este and Tenoch already knew that she was betraying them both. She could read nothing in his expression to contradict his words. She drew a shuddering breath, “My fears are my own, Telmax. Leave them to me.” She paused looking away from him, “You haven’t told me what it is you want from me yet.”
Telmax sighed, “I understand your reticence to trust me. I would not want to openly say anything to a stranger either.” He paused giving her a chance to respond. When she remained silent, he continued, “An oracle of the Temple of Twilight has seen you as the High Priestess of the Temple of Dawn. This oracle has seen you scourge the corruption from the Temple of Dawn.” He paused watching Setch’s eyes widen and her face pale. “He also saw your daughter. A strong girl, who will succeed you as High Priestess, so true in her devotion to Zel that she will elevate Zel’s status among the Cetza and the vassal lands. Zel will become the most venerated of the gods among the Lakiti lands in your daughter’s lifetime.”
“Your oracle sees much,” She paused, “But the Temple of Dawn has oracles too. I know that the future offers many paths. Did he see what happens if I decline to aid you?” Her chest felt tight and she struggled to breath. The revelations of an oracle did not surprise her, but this priest’s ability to see through her did. She gazed at him from under her eyelashes. He looks saddened by the question. She thought, I wonder if he will have an answer for me.
“Yes, he saw what happens if you do not aid us.”
She nodded for him to continue.
“The corruption that festers within the Temple of Dawn grows and consumes the City of the Jungle. You and your baby daughter are sacrificed on the altar in the Temple of Dawn, by your own High Priestess. Your blood and that of your daughter spill over the stones of your temple and mark the death of Zel herself.” His voice had dropped to a whisper. “The Unnamed God will rule all the Cetza soon after. And His war with our gods will bring about the fifth extinction.”
Setch found herself shaken by his words. “A god cannot die” She whispered, but she knew that some priests believed otherwise. They believed that all things, except Tez could and would die.
Telmax’s eyes were watching the people in the plaza. “There is proof of this within the records of all of temples, but you know this. Most ignore the stories or refuse to think of it. But no Gods,” he paused and ran his hands through his hair, “our Gods are not eternal.”
Setch stared at him aghast. He speaks like the apostate priests or those who serve the lesser gods. “All you give me is heresy.” She snapped and began to rise, to leave him to his lying words, but he grabbed her arm.
“Please, just listen.” He kept a grip on her arm, not enough to hurt, but she could feel the strength that he possessed. “You’ve heard the stories of the wars between the gods Setch, we all have. If they can go to war, if other gods die, why can’t ours?”
Setch opened and closed her mouth, unsure of how to respond. “Because our gods are eternal. They were the first gods. All others are false.” She mumbled, but his words were reverberating in her thoughts. How does the Unnamed God fit into this? He came from somewhere, and Zel has not cast him and his Itz cursed throne from the temple. Is it possible She fears the Unnamed One? She shook her head, trying to chase the blasphemous thoughts from her head.
“You don’t have to believe me. But the Unnamed One is a very real threat to Zel and us all. If our gods are all powerful, how was He able to gain power within the Temple of Dawn?”
Telmax’s question was too uncannily close to her own. Setch shook her head slowly. “Where did you learn such clever words, Priest of Death?” She whispered looking at the whitewashed ziggurat Temple of Dawn.
Telmax released his hold on her arm. “I was not born into Death’s service. And I am sorry my words have so disquieted you, but I need you to understand what is at stake. It is not simply the Cetza people, but our gods, our culture at stake.” He paused and she turned to look at him, his dark eyes bored into her. “You are touched by the Gods.”
She started, shaken by his claim. “What do you mean touched by the gods?”
Telmax watched her, “She” he nodded toward the Temple of Dawn, “She has touched you. It is not visible to most, but Her mark is on you.” His gaze shifted between the four temples, “I see what others don’t.” He continued to look at the Temple of Midnight. “It is hardest on those the gods choose. We must act out their will on earth, and that is not an easy burden.” His voice was quiet and Setch wondered if he meant those words for her or himself.
She stared at him, seeing true sorrow on his face. She sighed, “All I have ever wanted was to be a simple servant to my Goddess, to do Her work among the people. I have never wanted more than that.” She shook her head slowly, “Now you tell me that I must become High Priestess. And if I do not aid you, my Goddess and my daughter will die. You offer me little choice.” She offered a sad smile.
Telmax nodded gravely. “Would that I could sit here with you and simply share a drink. I too wanted to be a simple servant of the gods.” He glanced back at the Temple of Twilight. “I must be thankful that I have had a few years to serve a pious priest, a good man,” he paused his brows furrowed, “and I saw great work done for our people and for our God,” he paused and shook his head, “Now the gods demand much, much more from us.” He laid his hand on top of hers. “This was not a choice I wanted to make either. We are very alike, priestess.”
Setch narrowed her eyes, “Who is your master? What good man do you serve?”
Telmax swallowed, “You ask difficult questions, but I ask for your trust and should be willing to give in return.” His smile returned, “I am the under-priest to the High Oracle. Keron is my master and my friend.”
“It is not such a great trust you place in me. I could have, within minutes, found out who your master is.” She took her hand away, “Is he your master in this plot as well? Does he send you to me?”
Telmax nodded. “You could easily find out I am his under-priest, but what I have told you of his visions is enough to risk both he and I being executed. Do you think Neldo would let an opportunity to destroy Keron pass?”
Setch turned to face him. What he has told me about this vision could endanger him and the High Oracle. His heretical words about dying gods were enough to condemn him in any temple. She sighed, recognizing that she still wanted to trust him, and she did not want to be responsible if he was harmed. “You do need my help.” She faced him, “Neldo is not your enemy. He may have orchestrated events, but it is not his planning.” She saw real surprise on his face. Can they really be so blind to Tenoch’s scheming, does he put on such a convincing face in his temple?
His eyes searched her face, “Please, tell me, who controls him?”
She saw true fear in his face. “Tenoch controls him. Tenoch has always controlled him. He is Keron’s real enemy.”
“Tenoch?” Telmax grew pale and did not bother to hide his shock. “How do you know this?” his voice was tight.
Setch felt vindicated that she at least had discovered something no one else had, “Because he has told me, countless times. He thinks I am just a woman in love with him, but I know him far better than he realizes. Your High Oracle and your High Priest should watch themselves carefully around him.” She paused, considering she had already told Telmax enough to endanger herself, she should tell him everything she could. “I don’t know if this will mean anything to you, and maybe it is only because of the vile power Este wields through the chair, but when she questions me about my time with Tenoch – I cannot say anything.” She noticed his frown of confusion. “She uses the chair to prevent me from lying to her. I must tell her every detail of my,” she paused searching for the least objectionable word, “interactions with Tenoch.” At his nod she continued, “I know that I recite every word, every action, every nuance of his expression, exactly as they occurred, but there is always something that forces me to hold back some information.” She bit her lip, “But there are things he tells me that I cannot speak when Este uses her magic.” She shook her head, “I do not know if this is something of Tenoch’s doing, or if it is only a sign of my wits becoming scrambled by Este’s powers.”
He stared wide-eyed at her, before an expression that she thought indicated understanding crossed his face. He finally replied, “Keron has always harbored suspicions about him.”
She raised an eyebrow, “So you understand what this means?”
He shook his head, “I might, but Mitlan will not want to think the worst of him. He and Tenoch were acolytes together. You know what kind of bond that can create.” He took her hand, “Thank you for the warning.”
“Your Mitlan is a sentimental fool to not see the danger in his own house. He lays with vipers for a childhood friendship.”
“He returns to oversee Soshay’s initiation, maybe then my master can open his eyes to the truth.”
Setch glanced at the progression of the sun, realizing how much time had passed, she asked again, “So we have shared secrets. Now, what do you want of me?”
“As I said. Alliance. You, as Zel’s chosen and Soshay as Tez’s chosen will vow an alliance.” He watched for her response, and seeing none he continued. “A binding vow, but it is needed. It may even help end the constant bickering between our sibling gods.”
Setch considered the request, knowing that such a vow will be unbreakable once given. She wondered if Zel would approve. If Drioux and her oracles were to be believed, then Zel wanted, no needed Soshay to enter her service. Is this vow enough to appease you, my lady? Setch wondered. “You ask much of me, priest. Am I to be given time to consider? Or must I answer now?”
Telmax’s eyes shone with what Setch thought was hope. “Our time runs short, but we can spare you a few days to consider,” he smiled softening the words.
“Then I will meet you here in two days time, with my answer.” She rose from the bench.
Telmax rose and bowed his head in respect. “Thank you. That you will consider this gives me hope. And I am grateful for your warning about Tenoch.”
She laughed ruefully, “And I am vexed by your heretical talk, but I respect your devotion.”
As she walked away, she turned back and smiled.
As she walked back to the temple, Setch considered everything Telmax had told her. During her musing, the Temple of Dawn had become a hulking shadow against the dark sky. How apt that darkness is, she thought, we are all bound in darkness. Is Telmax’s offer the way to fulfill Zel’s will? Do we need Soshay in our temple, or will an alliance serve Her needs? She entered the temple still deeply in thought. As she passed the guards stationed just inside the entrance, her thoughts were shattered with the realization that Este would expect her to report on her meeting with Tenoch, and she would expect to find Setch pregnant. Can I fool her?
Setch knew without any thought that she would have lie to Este and to Drioux. No one in the Temple of Dawn would know the true parentage of her child. She would not risk Qent’s future, and she assumed the baby would be safer if everyone believed Tenoch was the father. Even if Tenoch fails in his attempts to take over the Temple of Twilight, even he is exposed as a traitor, he is too powerful for anyone to be willing to destroy his child. She hoped her reasoning was correct and would protect her daughter.
She hurried toward her chambers, hoping to have time to prepare herself for her meeting with Este. I can practice – I know what I sounded like when the throne’s energy controlled me. I can mimic that, can’t I? She was mentally rehearsing her lies, when she met Este in the hallway outside of her chamber.
“You return early, is your work accomplished?” Este asked, looking her over as if searching for some evidence of Setch’s success or failure.
Setch hid her surprise at Este seeming to lie in wait at her door. She was struck by the image of Este as a large spider. Setch recalled the huancan spider that had bit her as a child. It was that bulbous, black spider that had led to her service in the Temple of Dawn.
Setch had been a child, no more than three years old. She had been playing in the courtyard garden, alone. She remembered seeing something sleek, a shiny black orb hidden in the shadowy foliage. To the child Setch, it looked like the obsidian gems her parents wore. She had reached into the shadowed recess of the flower bed. At first, the child Setch had been delighted to see the gem drift toward her straining hand. The spider’s bulbous body was dwarfed only by the height of the eight spindly legs. The black carapace of the spider gleamed in the shadowed light, and the child Setch yanked her hand back, hating the tickling brush of the spider’s legs on her palm. She knew it was not a gem after all. As an adult, Setch realized that it was mostly likely the sudden movement that frightened the spider, and if she had only held still the creature would have lost interest and moved away. But Setch had been child, and the huancan had bit the meaty part of her palm. She had screamed and clutched her hand to her chest, not seeing the huancan still on her hand, only feeling the burning, sting of the venom. The spider had raced over her arm, biting again and again. The venom burned through her veins, making her muscles spasm. Her mother had taken her, crying and screaming, to a local priestess of Zel. The woman was the local healer for the small village. Setch remembered little of the treatment the priestess had given her. All that stood out in her memory was the glowing yellow blouse the priestess wore and the wracking pain as the venom continued through her body. It was only after her recovery that her parents decided to give her to Zel’s service. They had followed the old ways of promising a second child to the temples. Because a priestess of Dawn had saved her life, Setch’s parents gave her to Zel. For a brief moment, Setch felt a phantom pain in her hand. She forced the thoughts away, but could not help but wonder if Este wore the same red hour-glass on her belly that the huancan bore.
Setch finally managed to mumble a response to Este and forced herself to keep a serene smile, “I have news for you, High Priestess. Shall we go to your audience chamber?” Setch let the false serenity fill her words. The thought of returning to that chamber and the presence of that chair disgusted her, and inwardly she was riddled with fear. To enter the presence of the chair is like walking into the huancan’s lair, she thought with a mental shudder, it is like inviting the spider to bite me again.
“I want that news now. Your chamber will suffice for privacy.” Este held open the door to Setch’s room.
Setch hid her relief at going to her chambers, instead of the audience room. She walked calmly behind Este.
Once inside, Este seated herself on Setch’s bed and gestured for Setch to speak. Setch remained standing, but kept her eyes trained on the floor.
“My Lady, I do not wish to disappoint you, but Tenoch will not be swayed on the matter of Soshay. She is his path to discredit Mitlan. If she fails in her initiation, it will cast doubt upon the High Oracle, and through him, Mitlan himself. If she fails her initiation, she will die.” Setch delivered the words in measured tones, keeping any hint of emotion from entering her voice.
Este frowned, “His goals cannot be as shallow as ruling the Temple of Twilight. To destroy an oracle of such value when there are far easier ways to be rid of Mitlan.”
Setch simply shrugged. “This is what he has revealed to me. Also Mitlan is returning to the City of the Jungle. He will personally conduct Soshay’s initiation.”
Now, Este smiled, “So, he finally returns, and his return will lead to his fall. We will have much to celebrate to see him brought low.” She looked lost in thought for a moment, “Nevertheless, Soshay will not die.”
“How so my lady?” Setch bit her lip as the words sprang forth, realizing that such a question would focus Este’s attention on her, and she wanted desperately to avoid Este’s interest.
Este narrowed her eyes at Setch. Her gaze raked over her form. “The Goddess has asked much of you Setch, and you will bear another burden for Her.”
Setch looked up at her without meeting her eyes.
“You have been taking the conception potion. The Goddess wishes you to bring forth new life – a child of Tenoch’s”
Setch shivered, afraid of any reaction that would give her away. Este could not know the baby was Qent’s, no one could. “That is what I felt,” She whispered with feigned reverence.
Este frowned at her, “What do you mean, felt?”
Setch stuttered and tried to force herself to blush, “After my meeting with Tenoch. I, I felt… a,” she glanced around the room as if searching for words, “I think I felt life, a stirring in my womb.” She offered a shy smile, “Do you think it is possible?”
Este’s laughter echoed throughout the room. “It is possible. We will need Drioux to confirm your condition, but yes,” Her eyes locked on Setch’s abdomen. “Soshay will be given over to us. Tenoch knows that having a child means he cannot become high priest. Tez’s high priest may have no earthly ties to anyone.”
Setch blinked at her, “Truly?” She had not known this rule of the servants of Twilight, but she finally understood Este’s plan. She did not have to feign her surprise at finally understanding, but Setch had always hid any understanding she had gleaned of Este’s plans. She realized that her pretended ignorance would now be her salvation. Let Este believe that I am nothing more than a foolish girl. Let her believe that I cannot grasp her game. Only a fool would not realize that my pregnancy was her plan from the start.
Este bit back a sharp retort and sighed.
Setch returned her gaze to the ground, hoping Este would assume that she was ashamed to not understand Este’s greater plans.
“We must have your condition confirmed by Drioux, immediately.”
Setch nodded with a weak smile, “I can go to her now, if you wish my lady.” She said with all the pathetic, servile tone she could impart to the words.
Este nodded slowly. Setch risked a longer glance at her. Este seemed distracted, her head tilted as if listening to music or voices from another room. Her eyes were unfocused and glassy. I must leave now. I cannot let the Unnamed One see me. Setch was not sure how she knew this, but she was filled with the utter truth of this. Even far beyond the physical presence of the throne, Setch felt the growing pressure in the room. And she could feel the heaviness of a conscious energy that seemed to reach out for her. As if it wanted to devour her, and the image of Este as a waiting spider rose again in her thoughts. She forced her thoughts to shift to innocuous images from the market place. She focused on recalling the rows of cheap trinkets and amulets in as much detail as possible.
“I will send Drioux to you when she has confirmed my condition.” Setch murmured and hurried from the room without waiting for a response.
In the safety of the hallway, she felt the pressure diminish. Being outside of Este’s physical presence seemed to be enough to keep the Unnamed One at bay, but she was shaken by the Unnamed One’s growing power. If He begins to escape from the chair, what does that portend for us all? Setch rushed, directly to Drioux’s workroom.
Setch found Drioux waiting for her in the small apothecary chamber. The stone chamber was redolent of fresh cut herbs, and a cooling night breeze drifted through the open window. Drioux looked up from her cutting of herbs in surprise when Setch burst into the room.
Setch did not allow Drioux a chance to question her. “The deed is done Drioux. We must go to Este and confirm the pregnancy.”
Drioux frowned, “How can you know? It is too soon, even for the test.”
Setch offered a small smile and laid her hand on her belly, “I know because I felt Zel’s touch on me today. She would have given me this child regardless of which potion I took. I know She wants this child,”
Drioux continued to frown, and set down her knife. “Do you want this child? I know you bear no love for Tenoch.” She wiped her hands on a cloth on the table.
Setch shrugged, “I do Zel’s will, and She willed this.” Setch replied pointing to her stomach. “I have already seen Este and told her the news. She wants your confirmation.” Setch sat heavily next to Drioux. The events of the day were finally beginning to reach her. I’m going to have a child. I’ll be a mother if I live long enough.
Drioux stared at Setch a moment, as if trying to read her feelings, “I know your work is hard Setch, but this pregnancy will be a great boon to us. We can use this to force Tenoch’s hand. We will have Soshay.” Drioux’s eyes glittered in the dim light.
Setch raised her eyebrows, “No, we will not have her, but this pregnancy will save her life. I have been offered alliance with those in the Temple of Twilight that support Soshay.” Setch ignored Drioux’s frown and attempts to interrupt. She related the basics of the offer Telmax had made. She left out much of what she and the priest had discussed. “This is what the oracles have seen. An alliance with Soshay and me. An alliance between Tez and Zel. She doesn’t need to enter Zel’s service to serve Her will.”
Drioux swore and began pacing the room. “Do think you can trust some servant of Tez?” The words were almost cold. “How can you know? They are masters of manipulation. I do not know what games they play, and I do not want us to be involved.” Drioux’s voice became desperate.
Setch rose, “Then I wish an audience with the Sisterhood’s oracle. I want to know if her visions correspond to those I was given today.”
Drioux froze, and turned to stare at Setch. She opened her mouth, but Setch waved her to silence.
“I have been a pawn long enough. It is my body being used. I will endure this pregnancy. The alliance sought, is with me, not the Sisterhood and not the Temple.” Setch crossed her arms over her chest, “I will choose. I would like a chance to hear from your oracle, but if you refuse, I will make a decision without her guidance.” Setch matched Drioux’s glare.
Drioux took a shuddering breath. Setch could see the tension in her body and watch her clench and unclench her hands. “Fine. Speak to our oracle.” Her eyes flashed with anger that quickly faded. “Setch, I don’t mean to be angry with you.” She sighed, “It is only that I worry. I have already failed you, by allowing Este to use you as she has. I cannot fail again.”
Setch felt her eyes burn with unshed tears. “Ah Drioux, you didn’t fail me. What could you have done?” She laid her hand on the older woman’s shoulder. “You have always been a friend, a mother to me. We will not fail to defeat Her. But, I need guidance, and the Sisterhood’s oracle is my only choice.”
Drioux sighed. “I am sorry Setch. I am sorry that you have been used so poorly. I will arrange a meeting for you. But, I don’t know if we can trust the servants of Twilight.”
Setch smiled, “We may not have a choice but to trust them. We have so few allies, Drioux, and we have far less time than you think.”
Drioux frowned, “What do you mean less time?”
Setch replied, “The Unnamed One is loose. Este can access the power of the chair, outside of its presence.” Setch paused to let Drioux process this information. “And worse, I felt the Unnamed One, in my chamber. She is breaking the bounds that tie her to that accursed chair.”
Drioux paled listening to Setch, “You know this and still you insist on risking us all by seeking help from Tez? Setch, we have other allies.” Drioux stopped, “But you are right, let us both go to the oracle. We will see if she can tell us Zel’s will.”
Hours later Setch sat alone in her room. The Sisterhood’s oracle had confirmed what Telmax had claimed. With any foretelling, the future was only a possibility. Every choice an individual made had the potential to change the outcome. But the oracle told Setch her options. Join with Soshay, begin building an alliance with the gods, and the Unnamed One would be defeated. All other possibilities seemed to point toward destruction.
Drioux had grudgingly confirmed the pregnancy to Este, without the test. Setch had insisted on attending the meeting, fighting her own terror of Este and the Unnamed One, so that she could be certain that Drioux did not risk her baby. No one even questioned the paternity of the child, and Setch was content to wait now.
Alone in her chamber, she knelt in prayer, for the first time in her life she beseeched Zel and Tez and Itz too. She begged them all to help her forge this alliance between their servents to save not only the Cetza, but themselves as well. Setch remained kneeling in silence, and felt her worries fading. She knew that her plans would work.