Soshay awoke slowly. As she cracked her eyes open, the room seemed to spin. She reached her chamber pot before losing the contents of her stomach. After she disgorged the remnants of the liuqui, the room’s spinning seemed to slow. She managed a groan that burned her already raw throat. She must have spoken for hours to feel this way. And she had never been unaware of the return to her Chambers before. She probed her mind, but had no memory after taking the liuqui.
She struggled to push herself up to a seated position. Someone had left her a plate of flat bread, a small bowl of beans, and few pieces of the meat. It had likely been fresh when it was left for her, but was now cold. “Thank you” she whispered and grimaced as her raw throat burned with the whispered words.
Taking a small sip of water, she spit into the chamber pot to clear her mouth before drinking. She drank deeply, letting the cool water sooth her rough throat before she began to eat. She already knew that she would save half of the food to eat later. She tore the first piece of flatbread apart and used the pieces to scoop out the beans. She savored the earthy taste and groaned in pleasure at the sweet taste of squash mixed in. After gulping down the first few bites, she forced herself to slow down, unsure how her stomach would react. It would be a waste to vomit the only food she would have for the day. Savoring another slow taste of the beans and squash, she wondered if there was extra meat in the mix. The stew seemed richer, more filling than usual. She left the bowl half-full and placed the remaining pieces of meat into the mix and saved three pieces of bread. Now, the most she could manage was to take another sip of water. She tried to fight the rising blackness of exhaustion, but fell into sleep.
Soshay was walking the halls of the temple alone. At first this startled her; she had never been allowed to roam the temple alone before. She gazed slowly about the halls and realized the walls luminesced with a pale azure light. The strange, shimmering light cast enough illumination for her to see, but cast deep violet shadows. The blue light washed all the color from the friezes, making the etched lines starker, but the colors washed out, as if in moonlight. She reached out to run her fingers over the wall, but felt nothing. Not the smoothly polished stone, nor the sharp edges of the etched lines, nothing.
The dark shape stayed ahead of her moving too quickly around corners for her to see it clearly. As she quickened her steps to keep up, she suddenly realized the sound was wrong within the temple. The normal echo of her footsteps was muted and distant. The normal hum of voices was completely absent. She stood a moment in utter silence. It is impossibly quiet, even at night there should be some sound, she thought, and took a step waiting to her the slight click of her sandal on the stone floor. Nothing reached her ears.The figure returned to the intersection, is it waiting for me, she questioned. She followed again and finally it disappeared through an open door, she hesitated before peering inside the room. She jerked her head back when she saw the High Council of the temple.
Their council chamber was a large room, with a colossal statue of Tez dominating one wall. He was depicted as stern-faced, in his role as weigher of souls. For a moment Soshay was struck by the similarities between the god’s expression and Keron’s. The other walls were covered in shelves that were crowded with codices. She wondered if these codices were those of prophecies, but more deeply, she wondered if any of those codices contained her prophecies.Five men sat around a large round table. She recognized Keron, the temple oracle. He the one who had brought her into the temple. Of course she knew Neldo, and was surprised to see he looked just as sour in the presence of the other priests as he did with her. The remaining three men were strangers to her. She assumed at least one of them was Tenoch the Second Priest, making the other two the Master of Records, and the Keeper of Ritual. The features of the last three men seemed hazy, almost like a reflection seen through moving water. While Neldo’s and Keron’s features carried a ghoulish taint from the azure light, she could see them clearly. She quickly stepped from the room, but not before noting the silence and stillness of the figures. Did they see me? She felt her heart hammer, afraid of discovery. This would be an unforgivable sin.
A soft, warm something pressed at her hand. She jumped at the touch and glanced down startled to find a cat. It pressed its large head into her hand with a rumbling purr. She stroked the velvet fur. The cat, she slowly realized, was not a temple pet. It was far too large for that. It cocked its head at her and bounded into the council room. “No, cat!” she whispered after its bounding form. Then slapped her hand over her mouth terrified that her words would be heard.
She held her breath, expecting the animal to be ousted from the room. She heard nothing, not even the conversation of the priests. Confused, she knelt down and risked another glance into the room. The cat lay across the length of the table, its tail sinuously wagging. No one in the room seemed to see the animal. As she watched, its tail seemed to pass through the men in the room. Then the sound started.
From the silence, the voices all sounded at once, and each of the men was suddenly moving. Neldo’s trenchant voice carried through the room.
“She should not be part of the initiation” Neldo said. He reached for his cup on the table, his arm passing through the cat. “She continues to flout the rules. Once again she has disobeyed the law to fast before prophecy.”
One of the unknown men replied, “Many acolytes have trouble with fasting. This is not such a grave offense. We agreed to give Keron the five years required to train any acolyte. His vision of the girl still stands. Her skill with prophecy outstrips any oracle in our records. Her abilities outstrip even Keron’s.”
Soshay guessed this speaker was the Master of Records. From his graveled voice she guessed he was older than Keron or Neldo.
The Master continued, “We all agreed with Mitlan’s wisdom when we accepted the girl. We have no reason to doubt his decision.”
Keron frowned. “Mitlan speaks for Tez; it is His will that brought the girl here. We have been forced to discuss this acolyte nearly every moon. Always it is criticisms.” His tone shifted, and became quibbling as he mocked Neldo’s voice, “She fails in her training, she does not attend her training, she requires special treatment.”
Neldo’s face began to flush, his eyes narrowed, “You seek to belittle me with your deleterious mocking?” He turned toward the other men. “This is how your favored Oracle behaves, like a child about to lose his favorite toy. I cautioned once that he was too young for his standing.”
Soshay watched Keron take a deep breath, his hands curled around the table with a white-knuckled grip. The emotions in the room were visible in waves, like the heat waves that rose from the stone walkways of her childhood. She could see the anger rising from him in waves and blinked.
“Enough!” one of the men finally snapped, and rose from the table.
Soshay noted he was a large man. His mantle strained over his wide shoulders. She thought he looked more like a soldier than priest.
“You squabble like children,” he continued, “and I tire of wasting our energies on this debate. Neldo, your concerns about the acolyte have been noted and I will ignore the childish remarks you both have made.”
The final man spoke, “Tenoch, your words are wise. For five years now we have listened to Neldo harangue us about this priestess. While Keron’s presentation was cruel, it was not false. I command the ritual of this temple, and if she has completed her five years of training, then it is time to test her and settle the matter” he turned to Tenoch, “as you forbad her to be trained with the acolytes of her age, she will be tested on the dark moon following their initiation.” He looked over the four men, “Can we let this matter rest?”
Keron scowled, “I accepted the will of Tez five years ago. And have fought every council meeting for her to simply be trained, to be made part of this temple as Tez bid me.” His voice grew tired, “I have debated, argued, and cajoled for her place here for five years. If any of you doubt my abilities or my place in this temple…”
Tenoch cut him off, “Keron, no one doubts your place here. Mitlan chose you for the position of High Oracle” his voice was smooth and gracious, but something about the tone nagged at Soshay’s mind. “Neldo does not doubt you, only the girl.”
Neldo chimed in, “Keron you spend little time with her. Always traveling back to the capital to stand at Mitlan’s side.
Tenoch seeing Keron’s features twist with anger, he stood, “Enough!” He shouted, but Soshay noticed the tension the allusions caused among all the men. “The Keeper of Ritual is correct; we must simply test the girl. If she can pass the initiation, she is worthy. Let us be done with talk of this insipid girl. And mayhap it is time that I met with her myself.”
Each of the men nodded, albeit stiffly, in agreement. They all rose to depart, and Soshay quickly stepped from the room terrified of being seen. Yet both the Master of Records and Keeper of Ritual exited and walked within inches of her, without noticing her at all. She watched wide-eyed as they simply faded into the violet shadows. From inside the room the cat let out a long yowl. Soshay looked inside to find only Keron remained.
He sat at the table with his head in his hands. He finally looked up, gazing at the statue of Tez in the room.
“I have tried. I have argued for the girl at every turn. I have dealt with the politics and the constant argument. My position in the temple is now tied to her success or failure. Neldo covets my position with too much fervor, and he disregards all in his quest for power. I fear I have failed in your will. You sent me the vision, and I found the girl. I have tried, but maybe I am the wrong vessel for your will.” He continued to gaze at the statue. The cat leapt from the table and rested its head upon his knee. Keron did not seem to notice, but Soshay noted the cat did not pass through him.
The luminescence from the walls grew brighter, she had to squint to see, and she heard a sharp pounding.