Monday, May 5, 2014

10 - Darsena, part 2



“Father of All.  Shaper of the World.  Shaper of the Spheres.  Thank you for granting us endings.
-          Prayer to Ranyam

THEN

DARSENA
           
I am fourteen and everything I have ever been taught is a lie.
           
We did not return to the island, or the temple.  We drove our wagon northwards, going around Water's Run and crossing the river further upstream.  We continued north, crossing over the border into Regotia.  The monk had papers, and the border guards waved us through without incident.

            I huddled in the back of the wagon, wanting only to be back home again.

            We came to the Temple of Ranyam, the Consort, and made offerings.  The monk did not allow me to sulk in the wagon, but insisted that I dress appropriately in the fine robes we were given by the acolytes.  We entered, covered in fine linens but still caked in the dirt of miles and miles of travel, and bowed before the hideous and hunched statue of the ugly Titan.

            The monk whispered, "Thank you for granting us endings", and bowed low to the floor.  I sat, silently, numb.  The monk paid a few coins to the priest, and then led me back outside, back into the wagon, and we were off again, continuing north.

            A few days later, we came to the Temple of Maiyou, the Goddess.  Here, the priest insisted that we bathe, and had no robes for us.  All approach the mother naked.  Again, we bowed, and again the monk spoke, softly.  "Thank you for granting us beginnings."  We left some more coins, and again I felt nothing.  I returned to the wagon and dressed myself in plain brown training robes from our own temple.  I sat, and watched as the hills rolled past, and thought about many things.

            We turned back southwards, but left the main road and followed a lesser travelled path.  This part of the journey took less than a day.  Thick trees sprang up around us, obscuring the sun.  The monk stopped our wagon before a small, worn sign by the side of the road, and led me along a rough footpath into the trees.  Another temple sat far off the road at the end of the path.  We had to hike a bit to reach it.  It was smaller than the other two temples we had visited, looking like nothing more than a long, low house.  There were no banners, no streamers, no icons or runes.  No statues.  Just a small wooden sign driven into the grass near the front door:

            “The Pedestal.”

            We came up a small set of steps to the front door and knocked twice.  I stared off into the trees, and at the ground, thinking of many things.

            The doors opened, slowly, apparently much heavier than they appeared to be.  Petyr, dressed in brown robes, bowed to us, smiled, and waited for me to say something.

            I couldn't say anything, but I rushed into Petyr's arms and burst into tears.  He held me, and just held me.  I didn't notice the monk turn, walk back to the wagon and drive away.  I didn't care.

---

            The house was a large rectangle, with a central courtyard open to the sky.  The rooms surrounding the courtyard were set aside for prayer, food preparation, study, but the rooms in the corners at the back of the house were bedrooms, and Petyr led me there, and sat beside me on a bed while I poured out weeks’ worth of adventures.  He listened and nodded when I talked about the disguises I wore.  He smiled when I explained how easily I learned to play off of the expectations of others.  He sat, silently, without interruption as I, haltingly at first, told him about my first kill.  Then he put his arms around me and just held me, but this time I didn't cry.  I held him close, and we pressed our foreheads together.  He didn't need to say: "I know what you're feeling, because they made me do the same thing."  I knew.  He knew I knew.  And that was enough.

            In the corner of my mind, I thought I heard a small, whispered voice, say: Hurry! and then another say Patience.

            Petyr shook his head as if remembering something, stood, and held out his hand to me, smiling.  "Come on," he said.  "There's still more you need to learn.  You passed your test.  You're ready to know everything that I know."

            I took his hand, and he led me back through the house, out into the courtyard in its center.  There, in its center, was a large pedestal of marble, and atop it was what looked like a grey sphere of some kind of rock.  Petyr had me sit on the grass in front of it, and clapped twice.  Soon, the priest appeared, dressed in the white robes trimmed with red that everyone else at this temple wore.  Petyr motioned towards me.  "She has proven herself.  She is ready to know the truth."

            The priest, old but unbowed, walked over towards me, squinting down as if measuring me.  "These truths are not for everyone, Chosen.  There are tests, and vows..."

            "I believe she is ready.  I trust her."

            "Are you certain that you are not letting your own feelings get in the way of..."

            “I am certain.  She is the one.  Please tell her.”

            “If we might have a little time to be sure of…”

"I want her.  Tell her."
           
The voice that came from Petyr's mouth was not... his.  It was not... a man.  For just a moment, his eyes seemed to glow with golden light, and I think so did his mouth, even.  His words seemed to hang in the air for several moments even after he had closed his mouth.

            The monk backed up several paces, then bowed deeply, and he was sweating.

            Petyr blinked a few times, looked down at me with a kind smile.  His eyes were normal. He winked, and then sat down beside me.  He took my hand in his.  "It's alright.  I'll explain everything.  But first, listen to the priest.  Trust me?"

            Of course I did.  I nodded, and smiled back.

            The priest cleared his throat.  "To begin, hm.  How much do you know about the gods, child?"

            I thought about what I had read, and what other priests and monks had told me.

            "I know that they were created by the Titans in their struggling, and that they created our world and all of the life upon it."

            "And what do you know of their duties?"

            "I know that Maivierial rules the skies and gives us rain and sun, and that Er'tul rules the rivers and seas, and Gorgus takes the dead and grants them rest, and that Yuu is their king who gave magic unto men before the world was split."

            "Then you know wrong, child.  We know the ancient truth, that the tales of the gods are lies, that the truth of the gods has been hidden.  We keep this ancient truth, and we keep it secret, because the enemies of the gods would exploit it if it was known, and the Unnamed would once again ravage all creation."

            "Truth?  The Unnamed?"

            "Silence, please.  I will tell you the story:”

            I closed my mouth and folded my arms.  The priest snorted.

            "Listen well.  While Maiyou and Ranyam struggled in their eternal conflict, their grappling gave birth to the first gods.  These eldest gods saw the worlds that their parents had made, and moved to shape them, and bless them with life just as they had been blessed by their parents.  And many thousands of gods were created in this way, and each settled upon the many worlds created by the Titans."

            I nodded, because while I had never heard of any other worlds, I already knew most of this, and the rest seemed to make sense.

            "But somehow, in their struggling, something else was created.  The Unnamed came forth and made war upon the gods, destroying life where they found it instead of creating, burning instead of growing.  They slaughtered and consumed everything they found, and the gods fought against them in a great war in the heavens.  Many of the gods were killed, and many of the Unnamed.

            "It was Yuu, firstborn of the gods, who gathered together his brothers and sisters and created a prison for the Unnamed.  He lured them there, and trapped them, because he knew that to continue fighting would destroy those worlds still untouched by the war.  And so the Unnamed were sealed in their prison, a great sphere buried deep within the heart of one of the many worlds.  This very world upon which we stand."

            I blinked at that.  And I leaned forward, because something within me knew where this was going.

            "Yuu descended to this world and invited his closest brothers and sisters to join him, and create life as so many of their kin had on other worlds.  And so Maivierial created the dragons, and Yuu assigned her the skies to rule over and keep in balance for the races below.

            "Er'thuliathen created the life in the seas, and Yuu gave to him the oceans and rivers to rule over, and keep in balance for the races above.

            "Gorgus created dwarves and gnomes, and Yuu gave to him the earth and mountains to rule over, and keep in balance for the races upon them.

            "And Lovi stood apart, and waited, for she was cunning and wise."

            Lovi?  Who is Lovi?  I opened my mouth to ask, but Petyr shook his head, and glanced meaningfully at the priest.  I nodded, and waited.

            "And Yuu was pleased at what his brothers and sisters had wrought, and so gave his own blood unto the earth, and from it sprang forth the race of men.

            "And the world turned for many years, and the gods ruled wisely over it as the various races spread and grew and learned from them.  But the gods saw that the creatures that they had created were mortal, and in their time died.  And their spirits lingered on and vexed the living and harassed even the gods.  So Lovi, most cunning of the gods, who had waited, had her husband Gorgus fashion a great hall beneath the mountains for her, and she called the dead to herself.  And to her Yuu gave the power of life and death, and she became the goddess of death, with the authority to judge over the deeds of both great and small, and to send each to whatever reward awaits them beyond this life."

            I stood up at this point, about to shout, but a gentle squeeze from Petyr's hand reminded me to be polite.  Fine, then.  "Your pardon, sir, but the only 'truth' I have ever known is that Gorgus is the god of death.  I serve him.  I have been trained in his temple since I was a child.  All that I do, I do in his name."

            The priest smiled, sadly.  "Yes, he is the god of death, now.  His wife was lost, and so he does her job in memory of her."

            "Lost?  Wife?  What...?"

            The priest motions for me to sit again, and I do, looking over at Petyr again.  He just smiles, sadly, like the priest had.  "Just listen, Darsé."

            The priest starts pacing.  "I spoke of the Unnamed, and their prison.  Somehow, the prison was breached, and the gods fought to keep them contained, lest they destroy all of the wondrous creation of this world.  And they pushed the Unnamed back, and sealed their prison once again, but when the prison was sealed again, Lovi stood in the doorway, holding the Unnamed at bay, imploring Yuu to seal it even with her inside.  And as the door closed, the Unnamed rushed upon her and she was lost, but the Unnamed were contained, and her task fell to her husband who mourns her even now."

            I turn back to Petyr, and he just nods, knowingly.  I look back to the priest, who just sighs.  "If you want proof, lady, travel east for about a week or two.  The proof is written into the very earth itself.  The world is split, and half is lost, and Lovi with it."

            And I heard that same voice that I thought I heard before, a soft whisper as if from a great distance:

            Not exactly true.

            Well, close enough.

            Yes, for our purpose.

            I shake my head, trying to clear it, and Petyr stands up, again offering me his hand.  I take it without thinking, and he leads me back to the bedroom where he sits on the bed, patting it.  I sit next to him, wondering.  He lets me think, and finally, I think I’m ready to speak.

            "Alright, if I understand this, our god is not the first god of death.  The original god, er, I mean goddess of death was lost."

            "That's right.

            "Why are you telling me this?  What use is this great truth to us?  And why hide it?"

            "As far as hiding it, that was Gorgus’ command.  The Unnamed have servants, worshipers of their own, and if they knew that the gods were reduced in number, even by one, they could exploit that.  Gorgus commanded us to keep it secret.”

            “Alright, but why tell me?  Why reveal this secret at all?”

He slides off of the bed and kneels before me, holding my hands. "Don't you see, Darsé?  Don't you understand?  Lovi was lost, but we are going to get her back."

            "What?"

            "Gorgus can reclaim her, and then the world can be restored, but he cannot do it alone.  He needs our help.  That's our purpose.  Remember how the monks told you that we work to restore the world, to fulfill Gorgus’ purpose?  It’s not just empty words.  We're going to reunite them, husband and wife, and restore balance to the heavens."

            "Restore... reunite... can we even do that?"

            "Yes, but it requires a husband and wife here on Earth, both trained, proven and dedicated to Gorgus' cause to make it happen."

            "Alright, but where do we find a..."

            He's smiling up at me.

            Oh.

            OH!

            Well, of course I said yes.  He is Petyr.  He is a god.  Everything I was taught may have been a lie, but who needs truth when I have a Petyr?

---
            I am sixteen.

            I am back on my island with my friends and my family.  Everyone gathered together as Petyr and I said our vows to each other and placed rings of cold iron upon each other's hands.  The usually drab walls of the temple were covered with colorful hangings and streamers and even the normally dispassionate monks seemed, well, if they weren't smiling, their eyes weren't quite as cold as usual.

            Everything was ready for us when we returned to the island.  Apparently, the entire time I was gone my friends worked, nonstop, to get our home ready for the wedding.  They knew that I would succeed and return.  They knew that Petyr would ask me to marry him.  They knew that I would say yes.  Their joy is my joy.  My joy is theirs.

            My friends, the only family I know, gave us gifts.  Each used the skills they have been trained in for years to craft us their specialties.  Yun excels in woodworking and building, and he led the others in making Petyr and me a small house of our very own.  It is small, but it is ours.

            Nav and Suri favor metal, its forging and its shaping, and they presented me with two swords.  "When you are away, and far from your brothers and sisters," Nav said, "these new brothers will stand in our place."  I pulled them from their scabbards, admiring their craftsmanship.  I sheathed them again, blinking away tears.

            Sut stood forth, holding a small box.  "This is for you, Petyr.  There is no gift we can give you that does not pale beside the gift you have already received today."  Sut bowed towards me, and I'll admit that I blushed while everyone laughed (but warmly!) and Petyr beamed.  "But in honor of greater gifts to come to all of us, this is yours."

            Inside was a simple crown wrought of wires of copper, gold and silver, inlaid with emeralds.  Sut always loved the intricate work, and this was his masterpiece.  Petyr had to turn away for a few moments, and I loudly thanked everyone for their gifts while he wiped his eyes.

            Petyr turned to me then, and took my hands.  "It is not tradition for a husband or wife to give a gift to the other, for they already give everything of themselves in marriage.  But I don't care, because my wife is the best of all wives.  So..."

            A monk rushed up carrying a box.  I opened it, and inside were two leather bracers.  They appeared completely normal, if heavy.  Petyr took one out and, kneeling, placed it upon my wrist.  Then he moved my arm and everyone gasped as a hidden blade slid forth.  He smiled up at me.  "These have many secrets.  I'll teach you all of them, but never again will my wife be left defenseless in some alleyway."

            Now it was my turn to cry.  Everyone applauded, and we rose, and bowed, before Petyr led me out of the temple, through the jungle, to our new home.  He lifted me off of my feet, carried me through the front door, and all the way to our new bed.  He kissed me as he lay me down, and I kissed him back.

            What followed is my own memory to cherish.  Whatever came after, no one can take it away from me.

---

            I am sixteen.  I am married.  I am a wife of two days.

            Petyr is making breakfast as I wander out of the bedroom.  He's simmering some kind of gravy over the fireplace.  I smell sausage.  There is fresh bread on the table.  He is as naked as I am, and I watch him as he cooks.  I want to enshrine this moment in my heart forever.  I want to ask him, but I dare not.

            He hums as he works.  Gerde's waltz.  It's the song I played for him on my lute, six years ago, on the day I realized that I loved him, even if I didn't know what that meant at the time.  He pulls the skillet from the fire, making a face as he tries not to drop it or splatter himself with grease.  He pours the gravy onto two plates, then sets down the skillet and places the plates on the table.  He breaks off some pieces of bread, and arranges them on the plates.  Then he turns towards the bouquet of flowers I picked last night while we walked near the cold spring, and places one of them, a deep purple rose, next to one of the plates.  He looks at his work and sighs contentedly.  He turns, walking towards me and jumps when he sees me standing there.  His eyes come alight.

            "Oh!  I was about to come and wake you!  How long were you standing there?"

            "Long enough."  I smile and snake my arms around him and pull him close.

            He laughs and kisses me, then tries to pull away.  "Breakfast is getting cold."

            "Ranyam can take breakfast.  Petyr can take me!"  I pull him back towards the bedroom.

            "Petyr and Darsé can eat!  Play later!" he smirks, spinning free and dancing to the other side of the table.  I force a smile and follow him.  Breakfast means conversation.  I want to ask him, but I dare not.

           

            I come to the table and sit down, and he joins me.  I take a piece of bread and dredge it through the gravy absently, and chew on it absently.  I stare at the plate.  I feel it again, deep, on the left side of my soul, there in the back.  It scratches at me.  I want to ask him, but I dare not.

            "Wanna talk about it?" he says, mouth full of bread.


            I look up, and he's smirking, and waiting with his eyes shining.

            "Is something happening to me?"

            He smiles, but it's not joking.  It's a kind smile, and I think a little condescending.  Or maybe sympathetic.  "It's happening to you, finally.  I was wondering when it would start."

            "When what would start?"

            "The goddess is starting to come back into this world."

            "The goddess?  Lovi?  But I didn't do anything... we didn't DO anything yet."

            "I think we did quite a lot, over the last few days."

            I blush this time, and he laughs.  "Darsé, it's alright.  The same thing happened to me. We're anchors.  She's placing a piece of herself within you, and she can use that to pull herself out of the Heart of the World, and back into the heavens."

            "The same thing happened to you?"  I feel a flush of jealousy.

            "Well, not exactly the same thing.  I was just a kid at the time."

            "Petyr," I shake my head.  "Petyr, please.  I am hearing voices.  I feel... feelings that are not my own.  Please explain exactly what is happening to me.  I need to know everything.  I'm... well... I'm scared."

            He's there, suddenly, kneeling again, holding my hands.  "Darsé.  Darsé, I'm sorry.  I know it's all new to you.  It's fine.  I'll explain.  It's nothing to be scared of.”

            He takes a deep breath.  "When I was a child, the monks told me I had been chosen.  I was special.  I was to be Gorgus' vessel.  To bring Lovi back, Gorgus needed to create an anchor, some way to tie Lovi back to our world, so that he could pull her back into it without breaching the prison of the Unnamed.  Gorgus still held a piece of Lovi, a small part of her spirit, and if he could somehow tie that down onto our world, he could draw her back home.  I’m guessing he and his priests spent centuries figuring out what to do, but they finally decided that the best way was to put that piece of Lovi into a mortal.”

            I swallow, my throat dry, sure of where this is going.

“The problem was that to do this, Gorgus needed to be able to touch a mortal, to place within her the only piece of Lovi that he had left.  But to touch a mortal would be to kill her.  His power is too great to touch a human directly.  So Gorgus decided to place a part of himself within a mortal first, so that he could walk among us.  Even that was dangerous.  It had to be done carefully, indirectly, with someone who had been prepared for their entire life to be able to join with him without being destroyed by his power.  I don’t know all of the details, honestly.  It required years upon years of rituals and sacrifice, for long years before you and I were even born.  I was just lucky enough to be the one chosen after a thousand years of rituals and preparation were finally finished.   Gorgus was placed into me, a piece at a time.  Well, at least, as much of him as could fit.  It was very confusing at first, but I am used to him living inside of my head now.  We've been together ever since.  I am him.  He is me.  I know his will, and he shares mine.  And we both care for you very, very much, and would not let anything hurt you."

            "Go on.  What about me?  What about Lovi?"

            "Well, you and I... us being together... it lets Gorgus place the piece of Lovi he still holds onto within you.  Piece by piece, he is creating an anchor, a tie to this world, so that she can be pulled back out of her prison, freed from her torment and returned to her husband."

            "Piece by piece?"

            "Yes, there are four pieces.”  He counts off on his fingers.  Nahhu is the wind that blows around the skirts of the gods.  Nehhu is the footsteps of the gods.  Neghhu is the cloak of the gods.  Neghhru is the heartbeat of the gods."

            "What does that mean?"

            "It means that the more you take within you, the more you know their will, the more you can see with their eyes, things unknown, things unseen, things that might be, or must be.  And when you are all filled up, as I am, then we can perform the final ritual to bring Lovi back."

            "How... how long will this take?"

            "Not long.  You and I are lucky enough to be living in the last few weeks of a plan that has taken untold generations to bring about.  People lived and died and spent their whole lives working towards this so that you and I could be here, today, standing upon the threshold of destiny."

            "But..."

            "But what?"

            "But what... what happens to us after Lovi comes back?"

            Petyr smiles.  "You and I are going to be gods.  Gorgus and Lovi will lift us up to join them, and we will be together, forever.  Not just for one life, but for all time."

It sounds a bit creepy honestly, but his eyes are so earnest.  He is telling me the truth, I’m sure of it.

            And that odd whisper, the voice I have been hearing clearer and clearer these past two days, says, almost giggling, not exactly true.

            I don't hear it very clearly though.  Or maybe I choose not to.

            I shake my head.  "Really?  You and me?  Together?"

            "Yes.  You and me."  He stands up and pulls me to him, kissing me fiercely.  “I love you.  I would never hurt you, Darsé.  That’s all I’ve wanted, all this time.  For us to be together.”

            "Alright then."  I return his kiss.  “I trust you.  I love you.”  I smile, and grab his hand.  I turn and clear off the table with a sweep of my other arm, knocking plates and food to the floor.  I leap up onto the table, and pull him on top of me.  "Okay, mister god.  Let's bring back a goddess."

--

            I am sixteen and everything I have ever been taught is a lie.

            He is making breakfast again.  He is naked.  I am not.  I am dressed.  I am wearing my training robes, and my new bracers that he gave me.  He is stirring the stew we set to simmering last night.

            "Petyr," I say.  I believe that I should be saying this haltingly, but somehow I do not.  My words are clear.  Purposeful.  He stops what he is doing and looks up at me.

            And his damned eyes come alight again.  And his stupid face breaks into a grin of love and devotion again.  Damnit damnit damnit damnit damnit.  How can I hurt him?  How can I deny him?

            Hopeless… whispers the voice from the left side of my soul.  I shake my head and try to ignore it.

"Petyr, I can't do this."

            He skips over, grabbing me up in his arms, spinning me about, kissing me.  "Sit.  Breakfast is almost ready."

            He pulls back a chair for me, and twirls away again, back to the fire.  I do not sit.

            "Petyr.  Listen to me.  I cannot do this."

            He freezes.  Then he turns, and his motion is jerking, unnatural.  It is Petyr, but there, crouched behind his eyes....

            His words are slow.  Measured.

            "Do what, Darsé?"

            "I feel her, Petyr.  I know her mind.  She is not Lovi, not anymore.  We cannot bring her back."

His eyes cloud, and then clear.  I'm talking to Petyr again.  "What... what are you talking about?  We're so close.  Lovi is suffering down in that hell, and we're the only way to free her.  We discussed this already.  Don’t be scared.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I am afraid, Petyr.  I heard her, and I am terrified for myself, for you, for everyone.”

He’s not angry.  He’s concerned, and he turns away for a second, marshaling his own thoughts.  He turns back to me, and takes my hands in his own.  “Love.”  He puts his arms around me.  “It’s alright.”  He hugs me for a few moments, then helps me to my chair, and sits across from me.  “You’re scared.  I understand, Darsé.  I was too, when I first started hearing Gorgus.  It just means…”

“You’re not listening Petyr, she’s…”

“No, let me talk now.  Please, let me finish.  You’re hearing her?  That’s good news.  I know it’s scary.  Remember, she is trapped in a living hell.  Her words might not make sense to you, but when she is brought back into the heavens with her husband, everything will be alright.  Don’t balk now, here at the end.  Remember the sacrifice she made for all of us.”

            I take a deep breath, and grab his hand.  "I feel her.  Do you understand?  I feel her.  I feel her all the time now.  The sacrifice she made, it was to save the world.  Lovi was willing to sacrifice everything for us, back then.  Lovi, now... she doesn’t care about that anymore.  She's not… Lovi anymore.  The creature that used to be Lovi, she doesn't care about the world.  She is mad.”

            “Darsé…” he pulls his hand away.

            “I don’t just hear her; I know her.  She has been tormented for ages upon ages and she has lost her mind.  She wants to escape, and let loose all of the Unnamed, and dance as they destroy creation.”

“Darsé.”

“She is one of them now.  She's become one of them.  She is Unnamed!"

            "YOU DO NOT DARE TO UNNAME A GOD" and Petyr is suddenly standing with golden eyes, and his backhand sends me flying out of my chair and across the room.  I crash into the wall, and slide down.  The room is spinning.  My nose feels broken.  I spit out some blood from where I bit my tongue.

            From far in the back of the left-hand side of my soul, someone giggles.

            "Stop.  STOP IT!  Let me talk to her!" Petyr says to someone, and he's there again, kneeling, holding out his hand.  I back away, and the hurt in his eyes to see my flinch at his approach kills me inside.  I try to shake the stars out of my eyes.  "Get away, Petyr.  Don't you see?  They've been using us.  Using all humanity, and they don't care what happens to any of us."

            "No.  That's not right."  Petyr stands up and backs away from me, rubbing his hands.  "You're not interpreting things right.  Lovi is in pain.  You're feeling her anguish, but once she is free..."

            "Petyr, please, listen to me.  I have trusted you for years.  I am your wife now.  Please trust me."

            "No.  No, I..." and he trails off, as if in silent communication.  His head lowers, and his breathing stills.  Then he looks up, and his eyes are golden again.  His mouth opens, and golden light spills forth from within it as well.

            "In his weakness, he wants to preserve you, but you are not essential.”  Gorgus tilts his head.  "She must return.  I will not leave her in agony.  You can assist by living, or you can assist by dying.  You are the vessel.  There is no alternative."

            "If Lovi returns, the prison will be breached.  The Unnamed will rage across the world!  Everyone will die!"

            "We will create new life.  Together, Lovi and myself.  You and your mortal husband can join us.  You will be as gods.  You can create whatever life you wish to replace that which is lost.  The Unnamed can have this world.  There are others."

            "No.  The sacrifice is too great.  I refuse!  You can't force me to bring her back.  Part of her is in me now, and I can hold her in place forever if I have to!"

            Petyr's eyes go wide, the light illuminating the entire room.  Behind him, the table bursts into flames.  He advances on me, gliding, not walking.  "Foolish child.  You can only resist so long as you are alive.  If you die, what was granted to you will be returned to her, along with your soul.  Lovi’s gift can be given to another while you join her in torment.  When another is found, one not so squeamish, your Petyr will ascend with her.  You shall remain behind to watch as this world burns.”

            He reaches down, and one hand closes around my throat.  He doesn't squeeze, though.  He stares at me, and within his eyes, the light flickers.  Somehow, I know what is going on behind that light.  I can feel the conflict, the argument: Petyr pleading on my behalf, pleading for my life, fighting for me.  I love him, oh, at that moment perhaps more than ever.

            Then the light settles, and stabilizes, and brightens.  And within my head, from the back of my soul, the soft voice whispers again: He does love you, so maybe take comfort in that, but I think he's willing to settle for another!

            Petyr places both hands around my neck, and starts to squeeze.  I gasp, and manage to croak out a "No..." before my brain starts swimming.  My hands pull in vain upon his as I writhe and my lungs scream for air.  I'm already dazed.  I cannot resist.  My strength was already gone.  Petyr, or maybe Gorgus, smiles down at me as my vision dims, and it is a cruel smile.

            And I am lost, and scream for help within my mind, and of course, she answers.

            She cares not for her husband.  He is a useful tool, but I am the anchor, after all.

            Nahhu spreads throughout my awareness, and for the first time I see through the eyes of a god.  And I see all paths laid out before me, and they all lead to blood and not away.  Why, if my left arm were to come up just so, and move as such like that, and oh no, I cannot do this!

            You must, Lovi croons, her soft whisper tickling the leftmost rear corner of my soul.  Asphyxiation isn't the worst way to go, but it's just as permanent!

            And Nahhu slams into my eyeballs, playing possible futures out in gory detail, and she laughs.

            "No!” I think at her, my thoughts burning like my straining lungs.  “Give me another way.  Give me another path!"

            Gorgus' grip tightens.  My brain screams.  My dimming vision fills with stars and fireworks.

            Petyr already gave you up.  I’m your only help here.  Take it or leave it, my love!  She bursts into shrieking laughter.   Or don't.  I’m patient.  Another will come in time.  Die, if you must, and join me.  I'm ever so lonely!

            And instead of nahhu and futures, I see her, her skin blackened and split, her face covered in claw marks, her own fingers lengthened into claws of her own, and I see the pit, and I see them, all of the Unnamed, shrieking and dancing and rending each other and able to hurt but unable to die, rending each other even as they dance and oh goddess and consort and every god and goddess who ever lived and died and Petyr and all of my friends and my parents and all of the world please forgive me!

            I am so afraid!

            I am so afraid!

            I am so afraid!

            Please don’t let me die!

            And I give myself to nahhu and my limbs become another’s and my hand whips up, flipping open the hidden blade, and I bury it into Petyr's skull, right through the right ear and his grip tightens for just a second, one terrible painful second, and then he falls atop me, his hands limp.

            "What." is all he says.  Then a spasm.  Then stillness.

            I lie there, coughing and wheezing and then shrieking and howling for a long, long time.

            And far off, somewhere not quite in this world, a goddess joins my howling, harmonizing it with her laughter.

---

            You'd think they would kill me.  They certainly want to.

            I am back in the dark room.  I am back on the first island, the temple of Gorgus, the
friendly face this sham religion shows to the world, the priests of death who care for orphans
because their master takes all in his time and is in no rush.  The cult that enjoys the support of every Lord from Kazio to Eagra because they educate the surplus population while establishing a network of loyal agents that extends throughout every known kingdom.

            I am in the same room where a young girl was asked questions for hours, terrified and confused.  The first thing I demand is that the lights be turned on.  I want to see their wrinkled and soft faces, these men and women who decide the fates of thousands.

            The monks had come rushing in, unsure of what to do, as I lay screaming, holding Petyr, (oh Petyr, oh my Petyr what have I done) in my arms, cradling his head.  Oh, the monks weren't dispassionate any more.  There was arguing, and threats, and finally a small fistfight before they decided to let their own superiors make a decision.  The monks didn’t bother to try putting out the fire that had spread from the table and was starting to climb up the wall.  They dragged me outside, clapped me into manacles and roughly tossed me into a boat.  As we rowed away, I could see the smoke rising from the island as it vanished into the distance.

            And so I was rowed back to this island, the island I had come to when I was only a child.  For the first time, I climbed up the stone stairway from its base, awake, neither carried up nor down.  And I was let into this room, and made to stare into the darkness where I could feel those eyes, again, upon me.

            My heart was screaming, but I put a strong face on.  If I am to blame for killing my husband, if I am damned, then so are these bastards.  Let them suffer with me.  Let no other innocent girls be given impossible brittle dreams.

            I stare into the darkness, and I speak first.  "Come on then!  Let me see you.  Or kill me.  Waste a thousand years of preparation.  You can always still salvage this.  That's what you're thinking isn't it?  You can't kill me, not yet!  You had Gorgus!  After a thousand years you had Gorgus in a man, and all you needed was Lovi!  Well, you've got her now!  You’ve got Lovi!  I’m packed right full with her!  Now you just need to get your Gorgus back into a man again!"

            The murmured voices cease, and a woman's voice responds: "Silence!  You dare to blaspheme him!"

            And I laugh.  "Blaspheme!  I've had sex with him, you dried up old shit!  Gorgus is my husband, remember?  And you're terrified because you've lost contact with him, haven't you?  Your priests can’t hear him anymore?  Can they?"

            Utter silence is the only reply.  I know I'm right.  I know everything, because I am fully immersed in nahhu, and I do not yet know the dangers of indulging in it too frequently, but damn, is it making me bold.

            "Your priests can't hear him anymore because he's gone!  He made himself vulnerable when he joined with Petyr, when he tried to kill me himself, and I killed him!  Where does a god of death go when he dies, hmm?  Answer me that!"

            Silence, and then candles light, one by one.  I wait while monks illuminate the whole room.  There, at a table, all facing me are seven men and three women.  They are all impossibly old.  Mummified.  I understand, finally.

            I’m kind of impressed.  "He leaves you alone, doesn't he, so that you can shepherd his plan throughout the ages.  His blessing is upon you, so you never die, but he can't stop you from aging, can he?"

            They stare at me, and oh how they hate me!

            I sigh.  I’m not about to win any friends here.  "Listen, here is my proposal.  How long did it take to get Gorgus into a human body?  A thousand years?  It will probably take another thousand years to bring him back, probably.  I understand that now.  Each assassination by your guild is one more sacrifice, but it took countless numbers to bring Gorgus into the world, into Petyr.  It will take countless numbers of lives again.  You need time, but Lovi is patient.  She’s too crazy to know one day from the next.  She’s not going anywhere.  So, you can continue.  Go about your business.  I can leave.  I go about mine.  We ignore each other, and we both survive.

            "Or," and I finger the bracer on my right wrist, "you try to kill me, and succeed, but I take some of you with me, Gorgus' blessing be damned."

            It’s a hell of a threat, what with my wearing manacles, but nahhu tells me what I need to know.  I could die here, but very few of them would survive, and quite possibly none of them.

            They look at each other, calculating, pondering, weighing the worth of each other, of themselves, of the manacles still on my wrist, and they do it all without ever speaking a single word.  After only a few minutes, they turn back to me.

            The old woman speaks again.  "You belong to the Temple.  Everything you are, you owe to us.  You want to survive, fine.  You go about your business, child, but when we call upon you, you serve, just as any other agent must."

            "I will not kill for you!"

            "You will, impudent brat, or you die now, and join Lovi in hell, even if we are diminished in number!"

            Holy shit, they are not bluffing.  This old bat is willing to die if it means getting rid of me.

            I swallow.  "Please.  I don't want to kill.  Never again.  I've never wanted to kill anyone.  Please don't make me."  I think about Petyr, and I nearly burst into tears again.  Not yet.  Not time.  Later.

            "You are still an instrument of our god.  You will kill, or we will kill you.  You will kill.  Not often.  But as our god demands."

            I scoff.  "As our god demands?  He’s not in a position to demand anything.”

            "Then you will kill as our interests dictate."

            "Don’t make me do this.  If you make me kill for you, I will work against you.  I will find a way to stop you."

            "Is that a threat?"

            "It is a promise!  I'm willing to let you be, but if you make me kill for you, I will do everything I can to find some way to stop your rituals, to stop Lovi from ever coming back, to seal her away for good!"

            And the old bitch smiles.  That old mummified hag smiles and it is the wickedest smile I have ever seen.  Lovi would be jealous.  She smiles with all of her horrible teeth and claps her shriveled hands together.  "Oh, good then.  We have a deal!  I'm so glad we were able to do business with each other."

            And a monk shoves me out the door.  It slams behind me.

            I stand there, blinking in the light of the sun.  Did I just agree… did they just… what in the hell just happened?

            Another monk leads me back down the long stone steps to the shoreline.  He strikes the manacles from my hands, then gestures towards a small boat floating nearby.  It’s not a rowboat.  It’s a sailboat, still small, but easily big enough for the two of us.  We swim out to it and climb aboard.  The monk busies himself pulling in the anchor and setting the sails while I sit and look at a chest sitting there, the only thing on the boat apart from the two of us.  I open it.  Inside are several folded pairs of clothes: dresses, blouses, pants, and even boots.  My rucksack with my makeup kit and other supplies is there.  My swords lie at the bottom, my wedding gift from my friends.   I place them all back into the chest, then sit, fingering the bracers at my wrists, Petyr’s gift to me.  I sniff back tears, then pull out a parcel of wrapped cloth.  I unfold it, uncovering several charred pieces of wood, the remains of my kitchen table.  I take the wedding ring off of my finger and wrap it up together with the burned wood, and return it to the chest.

There is one last bundle of cloth in the chest.  It is heavier.  I pull it out and open it.  It contains a crown wound of wires of copper and gold and silver intricately inlaid with emeralds.  I hold it in my hands, staring at it, past it, through it.  The boat ride is long, and day and night both pass into another day before we finally come to a shore.  I sit there while the monk sails, holding the crown, silently crying.  The monk, who might as well have been any of the monks, ignores me.  Later, I cry some more, and the monk ignores me some more.  Sometime during the night, I shriek and pull at my hair and sob myself to sleep.  I wake as the sun is rising, tears still in my eyes, the twisted wires of metal still cold, crumpled, deformed in my cramping hands.

            All the time, the monk just sails, sails, sails.

                Dispassionately.


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