Soshay gazed at the mark on her arm, wanting the shimmering golden letters to again fill her peace, with wonder. They gave her reassurance that Tez had forgiven her, but echo of the searing pain of His anger made her shake. He forgave me. Yet she could not forget the hollow emptiness she felt when he had forsaken her. Any doubts she had about remaining in the temple were gone. She could not bear to without Tez.
She was interrupted by a quick, quiet knock on her door, and opened the door, expecting to find Pelo or maybe even Telmax.
“What are you doing here?” She hissed at Ohili. She glared and pulled him into the room. She glanced into the empty hallway, making sure no one had seen him. She closed the door. “My training was supposed to be kept secret. What I learned from you is forbidden.”
“Don’t worry, no one will hear me or even remember seeing me. You may be forbidden magic, but I am not.” He sat in her chair, his eyes flickering over her chamber. He did not bother to hide his distaste. “You should ask for better quarters, this is almost a cell.”
She shrugged her eyes traveling over the stark chamber, “My room is no worse than any other.” She continued to whisper.
“Soshay, stop whispering. I swear to you, no one will know. Now, we must turn to important matters. Even my magic is limited.” He gestured for her to sit.
She sat on her bed and waited for his explanation.
“Keron has sent word to Mitlan. He is coming to preside over your initiation.”
Soshay frowned, “Why would Keron ask him to come? The High Priest doesn’t preside over anyone’s initiation.”
Ohili grinned at her, “I see you still fail to recognize your power, little one. Mitlan will come because of what you are.”
“Do you mean the True Bride rumors?” She rolled her eyes, but inwardly she could not help but remember her meeting with Tez. He does intend to make me his bride. “It’s only a foolish story.” But she knew that it wasn’t a story. She did not know what it meant for her, but she knew that Tez would claim her as his own after her initiation.
Ohili raised an eyebrow at her, “I told Keron as much, but he thinks otherwise. There are rumors in the temple. Rumors that Neldo and his faction are planning to disrupt your initiation. Keron felt that if Mitlan were present, then it may put a stop to these efforts.”
Soshay felt a flash of concern, “Could he really do anything?” She remembered her last confrontation with him. The day she had awoken with her mark, and Tez had punished him. She shuddered recalling the awful scene of lightening and Neldo’s burning body. She hadn’t seen him since then. The other novices also said that he was absent from all temple activities.
Ohili shrugged, “I don’t know what he could do, it is who he is working with which concerns me.” He caught her questioning expression, “And before you ask, no, I don’t know who pulls Neldo’s strings. Whatever is at work is bigger than just your entrance into Tez’s service.” He paused, “This plot is about more than profit and I do not think that Neldo’s plans extend beyond the basest goals. He has no head for politics, and this plot is all about politics.”
Soshay narrowed her eyes in thought. “I don’t believe that Tez will let me fail, no matter what Neldo tries to do.” Tez had defended her before, and she said as much to Ohili.
He smiled at her. “I wish I could share your faith, little cat.” He paused a moment, “But, I put my faith in myself and the failings of all men. I am not willing to hope that your Lord of Death will intervene directly again.”
“Ohili,” Soshay’s voice was soft, “I speak to Him, and I don’t mean in prayer. I have seen Him.”
Ohili considered her words. “When you see Him, is it in visions?”
Soshay nodded, then stopped. “Not always. I have seen Him outside of visions. In a place much like the otherworld. Somewhere that is not here.” She gestured helplessly around the room. “Not in the physical world, but in spirit, I have seen Him, spoken to Him, and He has touched me. And it was as real as when you bandaged my arm.”
Ohili began to speak and stopped. He shook his head, and started again. “Soshay, I cannot explain what you have seen. But remember when I warned you of the other,” he paused, “creatures who inhabit the otherworld?” He waited for her nod, “maybe what you saw was one of those creatures.” He stopped her interruption with a wave, “I do not mean to imply that what you saw meant you harm, only that maybe it was not what you thought.”
Soshay shook her head, “It was Tez. I know it was.”
Ohili looked at her sadly a moment, “Maybe it was little cat. Maybe I refuse to believe because I have no gods of my own.” He sat silently a moment. “This may change things. If your god can reach you in the otherworld, mayhap he can help you. But other things are in motion, little cat. Things bigger than your initiation and the petty power squabbles here and it is these events that Keron has tasked me with uncovering.”
“Bigger than Neldo’s plans to see me dead?”
Ohili cringed but continued, “Yes. War is coming, and I need you to gather some information for me.”
“You mean, Him, the God I keep seeing in my visions? What is He?”
Ohili gazed at her, “You already know what He claims to be.”
Soshay dropped her eyes from his gaze, “He is a god.”
“Maybe a god, maybe one of the creatures of the otherworld, it does not truly matter. What does matter is that He is a far more grave threat to us all.”
Soshay nodded in agreement.
“I came tonight to ask for your help. I need to know what your sister is doing.”
Soshay sat stunned, “Why? What does she have to do with anything? She left the Temple of Dawn. She is no longer connected to any temple.” Soshay knew that anyone who left the service of one of the gods would never be allowed to serve elsewhere. Her sister was anathema.
Ohili shook his head, his expression serious. “She left the Temple of Dawn, and went to the Temple of Noon. She has been a servant of Maxtli for almost five years.”
“Is that…” Soshay stumbled over her words, “How? She repudiated her vows to Zel. No temple would accept her service after that. ”
“Yet, she serves Him,” Ohili glanced at the closed door, “Time grows short. Will you trust me to explain everything to you later? I need to know what she does now.”
She frowned, “Why do you need me?” Ohili was far more powerful that she was in magic, and no one was going to allow her to leave the temple to visit her sister. At least not until after her initiation.
He stifled a sigh, “Blood. She is your blood-kin. It will make it harder for her to hide from your sight. She has disappeared from mine. Please, will you do this?”
Soshay nodded and began to put herself into the correct state to send her spirit to her sister.
It was easier this time. She felt spirit pull away, and she flung herself into the gray otherworld. She pictured her sister, as she remembered her. Even as children, they had the same eyes too, dark, beyond brown. Soshay pushed herself toward the Temple of Noon. It rose before her towering into the sky. The strange blue light of the otherworld washed out the vivid orange stones that decorated the temple. She focused on Chacon and willed herself to see her sister.
Soshay stood in a large airy room. She knew it must be somewhere within the Temple of Noon. The walls were covered in rich murals with images of Maxtli. A large bed was in one corner, opulent with furs and fine fabrics. Soshay saw women’s clothing strewn about the room. This must be Chacon’s room she thought recalling the same mess in Chacon’s room as children. The door open and Chacon walked in. She was older, but this had only made her beauty more pronounced. Her skirt and blouse both were cut and tied to accent her femininity. What are you about, sister mine? Soshay thought watching.
Chacon stopped as she entered the room, her eyes moving quickly to the spot Soshay stood in. She narrowed her eyes and stared at the place where Soshay’s spirit stood.
Soshay frowned. No one can see a spirit.
Chacon smiled, and Soshay knew her sister smiled at her. “Greetings little sister. I have missed you.” Her continued to gaze at the spot Soshay stood. “Does your temple send you here? Have they finally awakened to the corruption in the empire?”
Soshay wasn’t sure how to answer. She knew that speaking would force her out of the otherworld. She nodded slowly, wondering if Chacon could see her in enough detail to see the gesture. The roiling mists of the other world felt colder and sinister to Soshay. She thought of the creatures Ohili claimed to have seen, and she felt something watching her.
Chacon looked away from Sohay, she gaze fixed on something that Soshay, even in the otherworld, could not see. Ohili claimed the otherworld had many levels and many strange places existed within it. She knew the place Tez had taken her was not the same plane as this part of the otherworld, but at the sametime, it was the same place. Chacon looked back to Soshay and said, “It is dangerous to be in the otherworld when He walks.”
Soshay nodded again, trying to signal that she knew about this other God. She felt something tearing at her spirit, and she whirled to search the mists for what was trying to pull her away, but she saw only the mists and her sister’s chamber. She turned back to her sister, in time to watch Chacon make a quick gesture as if she reached out to grasp Soshay, yet Soshay felt herself yanked from the room, a brutal pull on her spirit. Her spirit-self blinked expecting to return to her body. Instead she found herself in the plaza between the temples. The spear-wielding God stood between Soshay and the Temple of Twilight.
“Do not seek to meddle in My affairs, priestess to Death.” The words echoed around Soshay, and caused the world to shimmer and fade. Soshay found herself standing in a plaza changed. The temples lay in ruins; broken stones begin reclaimed by the jungle.
“I seek my sister, Lord,” Soshay said bowing her head trying desperately to appear humble, “I did not seek to disturb you.”
The Unnamed God laughed, and it sounded like the clash of battle. “Do not lie to me Death’s whore.” He took a step toward Soshay. Both of them jerked as the roar of a jaguar echoed over the plaza, and the Temple of Twilight, restored and whole, rose behind the god. Soshay took a step toward it, only to find the god’s spear blocking her path.
“Tell your God, I have awoken. He would do well to seek alliance with Me.”
The words shook Soshay to the core. The idea of Tez allied with this creature was unthinkable, but the ruins of the plaza made her soul quake. Could he really destroy so much? or was this a trick, a ruse to weaken her faith?
The black jaguar appeared on the plain, bigger than life. It towered over Soshay, and when it gazed upon her, she saw the humanity in its eyes. This is the woman Tez claimed for his own, she thought and watched the animal launch itself at the goddess. And Soshay ran, not staying to watch the battle. She heard the screams of both cat and man, but focused only on the temple, on home. She pictured her chamber and willed herself to return. For a moment she was suspended, trapped in the otherworld, unable to return to her body. The temple loomed over her, but she was prevented from returning. She felt the tug of her body and pushed toward it.
She gasped and opened her eyes. She focused on Ohili’s pale face. He seemed somehow more alien than before. “Ohili, what are you?” She whispered.
He looked at her blankly, “What did you see?” His hands stroked her hair. “Did you find your sister?”
Soshay nodded. “I saw her for a moment, and she saw me. She told me of a cprruption. She tried to hold on to me.” Her voice wavered and she again found it hard to focus. All of the sensations of a physical body began to overwhelm her senses.
“Tell me.” Ohili’s voice seemed to draw her back.
“She spoke to me, I know she did.” She fought to maintain focus, but the feeling of his hands, the sweep of her hair on her arms, the rough blanket under her legs all warred for her attention. She tried to force her hands to remember the motions that Chacon had made. “She spoke to me, and when He pulled me away, she tried to stop him. The she fought for me.”
Ohili’s voice was sharp, “What did she do?”
Soshay frowned, “the jaguar, she fought the god,” Soshay looked at Ohili, “I hope the jaguar is alright. She fought for me I think. Even my sister tried to hold on to me.”
Ohili froze, “Soshay, you must come back fully. You are not making sense.”
Soshay nodded her mind replaying the images, “She said we were late. And He said I was a whore.”
Ohili held a cup of water to her lips. She could feel every ridge in the rough clay and the water itself seemed a living thing in her mouth.
“Please, Soshay time is short. Please come back. We need you. Keron needs you.”
She could feel his hand supporting her head and forced her mind to focus on the now. She took a shuddering breath, the word seeming to snap back into place. She choked on the water. “I am here. I am here.” She whispered.
“I am sorry to put you at such risk.” He said still helping her to sit up. He gazed at her concerned, “Are you certain you are back?”
Soshay nodded and moved away from him. “Yes, I am certain. What’s going on, Ohili? Who is the god with the spear?”
“We don’t know. If He has muddled your wits so much, things are moving faster than we thought.”
She nodded slowly, “I will remember more. It is only He infects my thoughts.”
Ohili rose, “Don’t think too much about He. You don’t want His attention turned to you.” He laid his hand on her shoulder, “I must go now.”
Soshay could see the fear in his eyes and nodded. She watched him open the door a crack and check the hallway. He looked back her, “Are you certain you are well?”
She nodded. “I am fine.”
He gave her a final smile and left, closing the door behind him.
Soshay lay on her bed, the images still clouding her thoughts. She had been honest with Ohili; she knew her spirit was fully back, but she still could not make sense of what she had seen. She forced herself to clear her mind. She focused on breathing, letting everything else slip away. She finally rose, feeling light-headed. She walked carefully to her desk and began to write everything she had seen. She was overwhelmed with the belief that every detail of the far-seeing could be important.
As she wrote, everything that she saw became clearer. She could describe every detail of the Unnamed God’s clothing, all of His words, everything. And He filled Soshay with unimaginable dread. She filled page after page with the details. Her hand ached when she finished, but she was satisfied that she had recorded every detail.
When one of the servants brought in her dinner, it was not Pelo, but another boy she had seen many times in the kitchen. She glanced out her door, noting that no one walked the halls. She was less than happy to use this boy to deliver her message, but she could not wait for Pelo and she could not seek out Keron or Telmax at this late hour.
She folded the pages and tied the bundle with a scrap of cloth. “I need a favor,” she said, as the boy set the tray down.
“Anything, True Bride” the boy’s voice was hushed with reverence.
She handed him the pages. “Please, this must get to Keron.” She grabbed the boy’s hand as he nodded. “It is a secret. No one can know about this.”
He paused and nodded again. “I will deliver this to him. I can keep a secret.”
Soshay searched his face, suddenly very afraid for the boy. He is so young, so innocent. Am I sending him into danger with my request? Do I have a choice? “Be careful. If something happens, tell Pelo; he can help you.” She tightened her grip on his hand, “May Tez keep you.” She whispered releasing his hand.
He looked up at her, “And you, Lady, may I have your blessing?”
Soshay smiled at him a little sadly. She touched his forehead, as she had seen the priests in the temple do, “You have the blessing and the gratitude of the True Bride for this task.” His eyes shone with devotion and the feeling left Soshay uncomfortable.
The boy knocked on Keron’s door with a tray of tea. Keron answered staring blankly at the boy. “I didn’t send for anything.”
The boy glanced about the corridor, “High Oracle, the cook sent this especially for you. He said it was your favorite. It is,” he paused, “important for you to have it.”
Keron frowned, “Come in then.” The hallway was empty of all but a few novices, and none he noticed seemed to be paying attention to him and the boy. When Keron turned he found the boy holding a bundle of paper. “The True Bride sends this to you. She says it is important and a secret.”
Keron smiled at the boy, hearing the pride in the child’s voice. “You have been trusted with a great task.” He lowered his head in respect, “And you have my thanks. If you ever need anything, come to me.”
The boy flushed with pride and stammered his thanks before leaving. Keron hurried to untie the cloth and began reading Soshay’s message. His heart ached to see she had addressed it to Ohili, and offered no personal message to him. Is Telmax right, am I foolishly lovesick? He pushed the thoughts aside as he began to read what Soshay had done. He felt his anger growing.
“Telmax?” Keron called out.
Telmax entered from his connecting room.
Keron noticed he looked tired, even disheveled. While lax in his formality, Keron had never seen the younger man look so worn down. Keron took a deep breath, quelling his anger. “Sit my friend.” Keron poured them both some tea. He gestured toward the papers. “How could you risk Soshay like this?”
Telmax frowned and glanced at the first page. “I’m sorry my friend, but we don’t have much choice.” He glanced back at the page reading quickly. “And from what she saw, we made the right choice.”
Keron shook, “You have no right to risk her! If Ohili’s magic had failed, if someone else had witnessed this meeting…” He rose and began pacing in anger. Tez protect us all, but I may have to kill him. If anything had happened to her… He turned to face Telmax, “You will never put her at risk again.” His voice was low, almost a growl.
“Keron,” Telmax’s voice was soft, “I am sorry. I should have spoken to you first.” Telmax watched Keron turn and begin pacing again. “Please, my friend, I would never hurt her or you.” He paused, “She is still safe, but you must control your anger. I know you love her, but you must learn to hide it. You may be the biggest danger to her.”
Keron shook his head, and turned back to him. “Don’t you think I know that,” he snapped, “Even my God keeps me from her.” He felt the anger draining from him. I can never stay angry at Telmax. And he is right, nothing happened to Soshay. I cannot protect her forever. He tried to convince himself, but knew deep down that he was failing. Every instinct he had demanded that he protect her. “This was not supposed to happen.” He glanced at Telmax, “Love wasn’t part of the plan.”
Telmax offered him a sad smile, “None of us was supposed to love her, but we all do.”
Keron realized the truth of Telmax’s words. He glanced back at the papers, “So what do we do now?”
Telmax gathered the papers, “We must move forward with our plans. I am going to reach out to Setch from the Temple of Dawn,” he paused and glanced at the window, “Soon.” He rose quickly, “I will have to persuade her to join us sooner than we thought.”
Keron nodded, “I will take these,” he gestured at the papers “to Ohili.” Keron gathered the papers, and froze his eyes going blank. After a moment, he shook his head. Both men recognized the signs of a vision. “It may help you persuade Setch to tell her that she is or will soon be pregnant.”
Telmax cringed, “She carries Tenoch’s child?”
Keron smiled, “She will claim she does, and everyone will believe it. I can’t say with certainty who the child’s father is, but her daughter will become High Priestess to Zel.”
Telmax cocked his head in thought. “I am loath to use her child, or potential child in our plans. Are you certain her child will become High Priestess?”
Keron shrugged, “There are many possibilities in the path of Setch’s life, but for her child, her daughter, yes she will be high priestess. If Setch joins us and we are successful, then it seems most likely that a child she already carries or will carry soon, will inherit the Temple of Dawn.”
Telmax nodded, and shook off the solemn expression he wore, before leaving for his meeting with Setch.
Keron hid the papers in his mantle and left to find Ohili.