Author: Owl-of-Artemis PM
Ehhhh o.oRated: Fiction K - English - Romance - Chapters: 2 - Words: 11,766 - Reviews: 4 - Updated: 01-15-05 - Published: 12-06-04 - id: 1776324
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Siridion closed her eyes briefly in respect. Dark robed figures passed silently by as they carried the litter on their shoulders. Before it was completely past her, she flicked her gaze up once to gaze upon her mentor for the last time. His calm, serene face was so white and stiff, so much unlike the man she remembered from her youth-a man who had always been ruddy from the sun, and laughing at the antics of the children. His starry eyes, usually narrowed with intense thought, were now still and shut forever. She lowered her own starry eyes once more. In the endless silence, his staff chimed with almost obscene merriment.
Finally the litter came to rest a few feet from her, on the raised dais that would soon be his final resting place. All around, students from the school and temples were arranged neatly in rows-he had always wanted them to be neat and orderly- watching mutely as a way of life ended. The robed clerics kept their heads bowed and swiftly melted into the background, as anonymous as ever. Strangely enough, their actions calmed her, a constant medium in these changing times. The priests cleared their throats lowly, jolting her back into reality. It was time for her to say the ending Rites, to assure their absent master that his place was being filled as he had wished. Slowly, brushing her ceremonial garb free of the dust that she had been kneeling in for the past hour, she rose to her feet.
"Siridion Tuotanis Zuafinireh, the time has come."
Her breath caught in her throat as she approached the dais, each step a leaden weight added to her shoulders. Around her neck, the opal pendant of her apprenticeship began to glow with a rainbow radiance that caused the students to mutter. Many of them had never seen a Rite carried out-Vudaninn had reigned as Supreme Power for what seemed like eternity, having been there before most any of them had been born. What they would see tonight would be recorded as history before the Rite need be carried out again. The Staff of Magius always lengthened the life of the holder. The face of Vudaninn finally came into view, but as it did, she cast her gaze down. It was improper to look into the face of the fallen Power-against all temple laws. Her one snuck glance, had anyone seen it, would have been enough cause for the priests to execute her. However, she could see the Staff, and that was what stopped her. It too, glowed with a rainbow intensity. A quick glance at the preists assured her to continue. Reverently, she caressed the aura of the Staff. Long and made of simple iron, the slender shaft twisted elegantly into a common symbol of eternity, standing upright. In the top loop, hung one circle of gold, carrying a pebble of opal. In the bottom , one circle of silver, and one of bronze, both also carrying opal pebbles. Her eyes misted suddenly.
"The Staff of Magius knows the sun of Master Vudaninn has set. It is now time for the sun of Mistress Siridion to rise." She bowed once to him, before grasping the Staff firmly. The opals laid into its metal, and the opals adorned upon her person, all flashed into brilliance, creating a rainbow aura of power that flooded the dais, and swept through the throng assembled. Gasps and murmurs of respect and surprise rose at this display. Siridion struck the groung with her new symbol of authority.
Silence was immediate.
"The laws of Vudaninn still stand, as do his ideas and dreams. The Shudoi will be allowed to enter the school, as well as the temples, if they meet the standards of worthiness." Silence was still complete, but now there were shifting feet and flicked glances among them. Siridion set her jaw. Although the Shudoi were thought to be less than human, and more like animals to be tamed, Vudaninn had given them a chance, and accepted one Shudoi child....Siridion herself. He claimed that if she could gain respect and power in the school and temple- all Shudoi would be welcomed. At the time, the temple Crux, the highest priest of power, agreed to the test. But, looking around, she didn't see him there. As the one other Supreme Power, he really should have attended. It was a political slap in the face for him not to be. Siridion took a breath and looked back over the crowd.
"I want to see peace in this school. Any whispers, any rumors, any slight breath of complaint of the Shudoi being mistreated, and the consequences will be catastrophic, I assure you. With that being said, the same will go for them. Any hint of the Shudoi slacking, or breaking any time honored codes, will be punished as well. Equality is the key." The students shuffled. 'Equality is the key' was the unofficial law set down by Vudaninn, the phrase he uttered at each meal, the saying he had been overheard to mutter to the babies in the nursery. It was as ingrained in their heads as breathing. Siridion knew she was using that to sway them into obedience, and did not regret it. Vudaninn had given her explicit instructions on how to deal with the rebellious minds. She thumped the Staff again.
"By the Staff of Magius, I hereby declare myself the Supreme Power of Hakk'dan Realm!" There were no cheers, no applause. Vudaninn was too loved, too well respected, and she too unknown, too untrusted for it, but as one, the crowd bowed as was proper. She swallowed as they were led back to their rooms and classes, and didn't even blink when the priests covered her former master with a ceremonial sheet of the best silk. However, she couldn't stop the one tear from running down her face as the sheet was lit on fire. Clean, pure flame, consumed his earthly form, releasing his spirit to rise with the smoke to join the stars, his ancestors, and the gods.
"Goodbye Master." She murmured sadly. "I will do my best."
I knew, by not participating at the funeral, nor making an appearance at the Rite, that soon she would come to see me. That animal had no right to carry the power of the Staff. I had watched from the shadows as she had snuck a glance at Vudaninn. By that alone should she be banished. I had studied her emotionlessly, watching that sickening display of power as she allowed Shudoi- animals!- into my temple-MY temple! How could Vudaninn not have seen this? For the love of Idora, she had a tail! A long, sinewy tail, like a felines. True, that was the only outward sign of beastial traits, but inside is what mattered. Shudoi had heightened smell, reflexes, strength, and agility. Like dogs and cats, they hunted for food, eating only meat. And their eyes..their eyes were black, pupil-less, filled with starry points of light. I grit my teeth when she had made the Staff chime. I had been forced to grip my wrists, keeping my own symbol of power, the Manacles of Idora, from answering. They were iron, encasing my wrists to my elbows, with three small rings hanging from each arm. Like the Staff, they displayed a figure eight carved into the metal. Luckily I had been wearing a thick robe, or the answering radiation they burst into when she had begun to shine, would have given me away. After the ceremony, I knew she would come to my temple to inquire as to my disrespect, so I slipped away, calmly threading through the small bazaar between the temple and the school. There was no way I'd allow Shudoi to profane the sacred texts and scrolls of Idora-goddess of Freedom and Light. Vudaninn had been a wise man, a dedicated server of Magius-god of Power and Time. Both were the ultimate deities, married in the realm of the gods, which is why our two building met at a junction. Under no circumstances would I let those animals bring shame upon the name and reputation of Idora. Vidaninn must have gone temporarily insane. Ah...I looked up to see my beautiful temple. Even in the dark, it was alight with life. Torches and sconces shed a soft glow over every foot of land. Darkness was not allowed in the Temple of Idora, the mere thought of it was mirthful. As I ascended the long staircase to the doors, I heard quick steps and suddenly a deacon in pale yellow hailed me from behind.
"My lord, may I ask for a moment of your time? I have a question." I sighed. He was a young, evident from the color of his robes, still with the chubby face of youth.
"Yes, deacon, you may have a moment, but speak as we climb." He fell into step one pace behind me, panting lightly from the hurried climb.
"My lord, I am trying to become a teacher, but with literary classes, I am unable to amass the necessary amount of translating experience. I was wondering if you could convince priest Jolan to allow me time after hours." I was amused. I bet the school never had students asking for more classes.
"Shiv." he put in hastily.
"Deacon Shiv-what is your hurry? In one year you will have finished literacy, and may begin the three years of translation." His face fell, although he tried desperately to hide it.
"But my lord...I am nearly fifteen. I wish to become a teacher before my eighteenth birthday, as you did." I chuckled softly.
"Shiv, you cannot possibly do as I did. I took seven classes at once-you will kill yourself if you try." He shook his head resolutely.
"I am taking five right now..and I am asking for the sixth. I want to be your apprentice to be Crux." I raised my eyebrows in surprise, and sadly slowed to a stop, directly outside the doors to the temple.
"Shiv....you know that I was very young when I was chosen to be Crux."
"Yes my lord, nineteen!"
"And you also know that the Manacles prolong your life beyond mortality." He was beginning to see my point now, and his face began to fall visibly.
"So..how long before the need to pass along the mantle of power is evident?" I shrugged.
"Perhaps...five-hundred years, perhaps six-hundred, if I am blessed to live so long." His jaw dropped.
"But...my lord!..that would mean that..." I laughed.
"Yes, it would mean that I saw your parents born, raised, marry , and birth you, saw you grow, and age before my eyes." His shock was evident in the way his mouth fell open.
"How old are you now, my lord?" It was actually hard for me to say...so many years had passed since I had taken on the role of Crux....I had lost count.
"Perhaps...by normal count, I am fifty-four years of age. By my count..I am merely twenty-two years old." Shiv backed away, stunned I'm sure. It was always an amusing time to see the expressions of those who just now realized my true age. I patted him on the shoulder. "Who knows, Shiv, perhaps a new invader will somehow kill me- and you may rise to become Crux." I had meant it as a joke, but at his horrified expression, I quickly stifled my laughter.
"Idora forbid! I will maybe change my goals...I don't think I could last six-hundred years..." My laughter echoed around the empty school as we entered. As per was due the passing of a Power, all the followers of Idora were still be shepherded back by older and more senior priests. I turned to Shiv, struck by the thought of how fast he seemed to have gotten back.
"How did you arrive home so quickly?" Aha...the blush of embarrassment and shame spread across his face.
"I..I didn't go, my lord. Well, I did, but I didn't stay as long as...the entire Rite. I watched the funeral of Vudaninn, then..then..left." I raised my eyebrow critically.
"For?" He looked away, blushing redly.
"I..I was meeting my...she is from the school...and.." I nobly held back the powerful urge to break into peals of laughter, and coughed lightly.
"I see...I understand completely. Run along, Shiv, and try not to take on more than you can handle." He nodded, then bowed as was proper, and hurriedly walked back to the deacons rooms in the left wing of the temple. I looked to my left towards the school, standing in the Main room, and sighed. The way things were going, our way of life was crumbling before my eyes. All I could do was sigh and return to my tower-the only tower in the temple. As identical to the temple as a shadow, the only other tower in the school was the tower of the Supreme Power. It had been Vudaninn's. Now...it was hers. I climbed the stairs to my room, deep in thought, and ignoring the clamor I could hear arriving in the Main room as my students and hers came back to their homes. Tomorrow would begin as though nothing happened, the normal schedule resuming like clockwork.
My door loomed. Raising my hand, I bent my arm, until my forearm was running the same direction as my chest, and twisted it sharply. Delicate chimes rang out in the air, and the opal on my door flashed softly in reply before opening. Ahh...the sanctity of a room, so personal, so intimate.....I groaned and leaned on my door to close it. How upsetting today was..and how relieving to be in my own space. My room was quite empty-I have found that clutter obstructs the mind-except for a pallet on the floor, a small table with a simple chair, a few scattered books by the window seat, and a hanging picture of a white raven, the beloved pet of Idora. Shivering, I closed the stained glass window, again reminded of Idora when I saw my reflection in the clear glass of the raven. I hadn't heard from her in a very long while, a worry that ate at me constantly. How was I to lead successfully when my goddess refused to speak with me? I kneeled before the window, staring at the raven, and crossed my forearms, sending the chimes into melodious chorus.
"My Lady..." I murmured softly...her title a sweet breath on my lips. "What can I do to serve you?" I waited, knowing in my heart of hearts that she would not answer if she were truly angry at me for something. I waited.....
A thick lump stuck in my throat, resisting all efforts to swallow, until, finally, a painful gulp forced its way past. What had I done? Why was she stoically ignoring me? I had an awful feeling I knew why....but no...she could not blame me...not for that.. There would be no answer tonight. I would sleep now, and prepare for tomorrow, when I knew she would come to find answers. Seek them, but perhaps-only perhaps-find them. A Shudoi girl...representing the great god Magius. It gave me chills just thinking about it. But for now..sleep...I needed rest. I curled up on the pallet, feeling the stone leech the heat from my body as always. It comforted me, reminded me how fragile life was, how much the goddess kept us alive, and far from death. Cold was my companion, and I welcomed its embrace into sleep.
I opened my eyes to the gentle sunbeam resting upon my face, an almost tangible prod of the finger of the sun to awaken for the day. I lay there a few moments more, hazily wondering why my room smelt of incense and potpourri, why the bed felt as soft as air, why there was an attendant staring at me with an expectant expression......
"Mistress? What would you like for breakfast?" I gaped as I slowly sat up. No...I was served in bed? Oh yes....I was now...As if on cue, the Staff of Magius chimed lightly, although there was no one to touch it, nor wind to move the rings. So it knew me already? I closed my eyes, bringing my mind to a neutral ground, as Vudaninn had taught. I exhaled, releasing the worries that had followed me into sleep, and bringing in new, clean optimism for the day. Now...for breakfast....
"Please, may I have eggs and tea?" She bobbed nicely, and left. I would not want to be her-having to climb the tower each day to tend to my needs, but the position was reserved for troublemakers. The theory was, having to climb stairs constantly each day for a month, was enough to straighten out nearly all mischief makers. How many times I had been sentenced to this task, merely for being Shudoi...I shuddered at the memory. Below my window, I heard the voices of the students, reminding me of my duties, and the most unpleasant task of my life. Today I was going to meet the Crux. I had never met him before, but I had seen him at a few ceremonies, alongside Master Vudaninn. He was the sternest man I'd ever seen, especially so young. He never laughed, in my opinion, and never smiled. And I was to face him today. The Staff of Magius lay innocently against the wall, so handsome in the light, shining brilliantly from each opal. To match it, I'd need to inspect my new wardrobe.
My bare feet sank into the plush fur on the cold stone, drawing a low moan of delight from my throat. I had never felt such comfortable throw rugs before in my life. As Shudoi, I hadn't been able to have such luxury, and even here in the school, the students lived with simplicity, too wrapped up in studies and majik to think of spending their money on expensive accents to their rooms. The doors to my closet were thrown open as I looked through the array of splendor I was given. To impress and cow the Crux, to prevent him from thinking I was some back-woods creature, I chose carefully. Deep violet was Magius' favorite color, and the main shade of the wardrobe. I chose the short-sleeved top that connected to a loin-cloth skirt by an opal clasp. Each piece of cloth was outlined in rainbow thread, accentuating the lights that shone from the opals. Metal manacles attached below my sleeves held up the long, flowing material that hid my arms and hands. For what purpose, I know not, but they felt very luxurious as I twirled, and felt material swaying against my hands. Some thoughtful, attentive person had cut a slit for my tail to fit comfortably, and I made a mental note to thank the tailor later. For now, I pulled on knee-high boots, and attached the opal to my forehead by a chain.
Finally, I was ready, pulling the Staff close to my side as I began my descent down the tower. I had always wondered how Master Vudaninn had remained so spry all his years, and now, looking at the stairs flowing down before me-I think I guessed why. Six-hundred years of climbing up and down three flights of stairs at least twice a day, was enough to keep anyone healthy! I emerged from the stairs, into chaos! Students flowed from every door, going to class, or breakfast, or bed. It was always amazing to me how animated some could be in the morning. Friends laughed and played, students of all types mingling. It raised my hopes that someday soon, the Shudoi could join them in their joyous companionship. I was the beginning, and with work, my hopes would be realized.
"My lady! Good morning!"
"Good morning my lady!"
"Greetings my lady!"
"Rest well, my lady?" I gasped as every person I passed threw greetings and salutations at me, bowing or bobbing respectfully, as their rank may be. I tried to reply back to everyone, but I could not waste the morning in such a fashion, so I settled for nodding back to all, meeting their eyes and showing them appreciation for their care. At this rate, the Shudoi would be in school by nightfall! But there was still the Crux to contend with. I passed quickly through the halls of our-my- school, nodding to the professors, until I entered the Main hall. Very few were here, only guards, and patrollers, making sure there were no errant students or deacons. I merely glanced at them as I passed. The Staff was chiming softly with every step I took, the rings bouncing along with my exuberance. The eyes of the Temple guards followed their movements, parting for me like butter parts for a warm knife.
"Official business, Head Mistress?" I smiled warmly at them.
"Yes, I come to meet with your Crux." A passing deacon was pulled from his path as he crossed by us.
"Deacon, guide the Head Mistress to the Crux. It is morning, he should be in the garden." I was led by a shy boy, not more than fourteen surely, through the Main room to the outside land that grew wild behind our buildings.
"Good morning my lady!"
"Greetings my lady!"
"Rest well, my lady?" She gasped as every person she passed threw greetings and salutations at her, bowing or bobbing respectfully, as their rank may be. She tried to reply back to everyone, but she could not waste the morning in such a fashion, so she settled for nodding back to all, meeting their eyes and showing them appreciation for their care. At this rate, the Shudoi would be in school by nightfall! But there was still the Crux to contend with. Siridion passed quickly through the halls of the-her- school, nodding to the professors, until she entered the Main hall. Very few were here, only guards, and patrollers, making sure there were no errant students or deacons. She merely glanced at them as she passed. The Staff was chiming softly with every step she took, the rings bouncing along with her exuberance. The eyes of the Temple guards followed their movements, parting for her like butter parts for a warm knife.
"Official business, Head Mistress?" Siridion smiled warmly at them.
"Yes, I come to meet with your Crux." A passing deacon was pulled from his path as he crossed by them.
"Deacon, guide the Head Mistress to the Crux. It is morning, he should be in the garden." Siridion was led by a shy boy, not more than fourteen surely, through the Main room to the outside land that grew wild behind our buildings. It surprised her to find that they had apparently tamed the overgrowth and weeds, creating a beautiful, neat vegetable and flower garden, and even a trail heading to the lake. What beauty was there...it was nearly impossible for her not to take a moment to gaze longingly at the lush life spread before her.
"Incredible...is it not?" Siridion whirled around, slightly abashed that she had been caught unawares by him. Defensive words leapt to her tongue, a bitter tone began to mold her voice, and she readied herself for an attack. However the moment she saw him, for the first time in many years, she was speechless. She had forgotten the fact that he had shoulder-length silver hair, not from age, apparently, but from the majik powers of the Manacles, and the constant contact with the divine goddess. This, she had forgotten, though she didn't know how she could have...But those eyes....the eyes which studied her so coldly-were the same eyes she remembered. Dark blue with frosty white...almost like a deep lake which had frozen over long ago...They were so cold and neutral-and she knew-looking into them-that his eyes saw not a Power, but a Shudoi girl- just like all the rest did in the beginning. He lightly brushed his fingers over his arm, and that's when she noticed the Manacles, hidden under his flowing grey robes. He was dressed so simply, in grey and black, with golden thread at the edges of his long robe, sleeves long and loose, almost like mine. On his head was a wide-brimmed hat, with a long tapering cone at the crown, that trailed off eventually into wisps of cloth that fluttered in the air. She summoned up the power of her own will and Staff, and managed to meet his gaze without flinching.
"It is a very nice garden. It obviously took time and love to make it this way." He flicked his half-lidded gaze to the flora and fauna around them.
"Thank you. Idora was very pleased with it, as were the Temple students. It brings order to the chaos, as we do." She cleared her throat.
"I did not come to admire the view."
"I thought not. I know why you came, and you will find no solutions here."
"I seek no solutions!" He turned to her, an eyebrow raised at her vehement tone.
"Then what do you seek?"
"Unity, for all. I want the Shudoi to have the same rights as the humans, Elves, Fey, humanimals, and others! To have that, I must also have the cooperation of the Temple."
"Denied. The Shudoi are not worthy." She bit back her immediate urge to kill this man. Not only was it disrespectful, but it would destroy everything.
"Remember to whom you speak, Crux."
"I never forget, Head Mistress." He began to calmly walk among the plants, patting a tomato or a vine absently, almost as if pleased with a pet. "I remember the reason WHY the Shudoi are held in contempt, and I really must ask...do you?" She shut her eyes tightly. Of course he would know about that-he must have been a child at least, when the war had begun between the Fey and the Fell. The human and Fairy kings had banded together against the Draconian and the Seelie Court, and the entire groups of races had to choose sides. The Elves and the Humanimals had chosen the side of the Fey. The Shudoi and the Gremlin had uneasily sided with the Fell. It had raged like a summer storm- very short, but immensely destructive. All Gremlins had been wiped out-without even one child left to continue on. The Shudoi were almost butchered out of existence, but the Humanimals took pity on their close cousins, and sheltered the last remnants of our once numerous race. The humans suffered greatly, and hate the Fell creatures with all their might. The Fairy folk were indifferent to anyone's plight but their own, caring only that the Seelie Court, and the Draconians were put back in their places. The event had happened only mere decades ago-but the races had all but forgotten, to preserve peace- you cannot harbor hatred against the ones with whom you trade with to survive. But the Shudoi...the Shudoi had chosen the Fell for greed, not belief, and so were held in lightly veiled contempt by all but the humanimals. She opened her eyes once more, only to find him crouching steadily beside a limp plant.
"I don't-," he held up a quieting hand.
"Shh..." She waited impatiently, wondering if all the years of chanting had marred this man's brain beyond usefulness. As she shifted feet, the loops on the Staff clinked together once. To her surprise, a muted ting-ling met the sound, and a brilliance emitted from his robes. At her glance, the Crux pulled back his sleeves, to show the opals upon the Manacles glowing in response to her own opal shines.
"What do they do that for?" She asked, feeling uneasy that she didn't know. No doubt he'll hold it against me- as if being Shudoi means I know nothing...
"They answer each other-recognize each other, as do Magius and Idora..." She looked behind him, as a wriggle in the bushes beyond made her instinctively ready herself to pounce. The Crux looked also, slowly, making no sudden moves. A small badger waddled out from the flora, making its way to a plant eagerly. Obviously, this animal was causing the limpness of the garden tomatoes. She looked to him, to gauge his reaction. Cursing? Sighs? A thrown rock? How would her respond? Slowly, he stood, shaking out his robes thoughtfully, then looked at her in sudden realization.
"Oh yes...you. What was it you wanted, Head Mistress?" She took a calming breath, eyes still flicking back to the badger in amusement. How irritating for him- to see an animal eat your hard work, right before your eyes.
"I did not see you at the Rite."
"Your faulty vision does not concern me." She reeled back a bit. He had been there? Where? "You did not pay your final respects to Vudaninn, nor give your blessing upon my rule. That shows lack of unity in the defense we have set up." He continued to walk, and as she followed, she had the distinct impression that he was either ignoring her completely, or purposefully baiting her-to gauge her competence. Sadly, she wasn't even sure of which it might be. Obviously he hated the Shudoi. He turned on her suddenly, eyes cold, and tone even more freezing than usual. She flinched as his words stabbed into her like a razor sharp icicle.
"I have no blessing to give to a Shudoi. You got here on your own- you may finish on your own. You may allow Shudoi within the School, but the Temple is under MY jurisdiction, not yours. By publicly proclaiming that the Shudoi would be allowed in both school and temple-you bypassed my authority in a way that is despicable. Shudoi feet will NEVER touch the floors of my Temple!" She swallowed in recognition of her mistake, and inwardly groaned. I should have thought before I spoke like that! Of course I shouldn't have said it! It was a huge error on her part. If the Crux not showing publicly was a slap to her face, bypassing his authority was like a punch to his. Much worse. Closing her eyes in apology, she lowered her head.
"My apologies. Grief overtook me and I spoke before without thought. Of course, the Shudoi will not enter the Temple without your express approval. But the Shudoi do deserve to have the chance. I will not allow them to simply enter and laze about. They must earn the right as everyone else."
"Denied. I don't know what Vudaninn was thinking the night he took you in." She reeled back in hurt.
"His actions were his own."
"As are mine." She stiffly snapped her head up to look at him squarely.
"You are blinded by hatred, my lord. One must see clearly in order to serve." With that, she spun on her heel and walked away, fuming. How dare he! Pretending to serve Idora with such hatred! Blasphemous! Without a word, she breezed by the guards and all the students, who looked at each other, or tried to comply with a quick bow, but she ignored them all woodenly.
She would show him. She would show him the Shudoi deserved better than the spit in their faces of the world.
"My lord?" Kier turned his head slightly as a deacon popped out from a line of bushes. "I was told to wait to tell you before you went back to classes- sir, there is an emissary from Lord Exydian, about the new stu-."
"I will see him now." He smoothly cut in, glancing only once more at the irate Siridion still fleeing angrily back to the school. She had more fire than he had expected, but she was still so naive and blind. Very different from the small being who used to hide behind Vudaninn a few years ago. She was grown up now, technically an adult in human terms, and had fleshed out quite well. Her hair was short but wild, the trademark of the Shudoi-besides their tail. However, her hair was not the regular color of grass and leaves, as the Shudoi, but seemed to be slightly more the color of the sea, green with highlights of blue waves. Very odd. Very odd indeed..............I'm sure it means nothing. He quickly placed a hand on the deacons shoulder.
"While I m detained, make sure you get a few students to place a few bowls of food out here for the animals- they are eating the garden. The supply of edible plants for them must be getting too short, or else the predators are growing too numerous."
"At once my lord."
"Good." Absently, Kier made his way to the receiving hall he had commissioned for the visitors that seemed to constantly come to the Temple seeking aid, as if Idora were a fortune teller, instead of a goddess. However, Lord Exydian... Kier pursed his lips at the thought of that bulbous, lecherous man. He was actually placed below Shudoi on Kier's list, but his sons were good, hardy workers in the Temple, priests already, and he deserved to be given an audience, at least for now. Kier planned on never letting the man into the Temple ever again, once his sons left on their pilgrimage. He opened the doors to the sizeable room, and greeted the startled Lord with polite neutrality as he always did to all the unsavory visitors.
"Lord Exydian...how surprising to see you here." The old, heavyset man got to his feet with no small effort, and crossed his forearms in the Jurak sign of respect. Jurak being one of the largest kingdoms within a thousand mile radius of his small village realm, Kier accepted the odd signal gracefully, and without a sigh.
"Crux, I had hoped to speak with you on a very important matter."
"Here I am, Exydian." The man clasped his hands behind his back, rocking on his toes like a schoolboy, his cloak and tunic struggling to hide his protruding belly with a valiant effort. Kier wished he would just get on with it.
"My sons sent word to me that Master Vudaninn had passed away as of late." Kier mentally reminded himself to tell the students not to use their gifts for idle news updates. It demeaned the meaning of the gifts of the gods... "And that a mere girl, a Shudoi girl, no less, had taken his place. Now I ask, my lord Crux....is this true?" Kier stifled a moan of intense dislike for this man. Goddess Idora- grant me abnormal strength and patience to prevent myself from sinning against your laws-and killing this putrid human...I know I would enjoy it too much for repentance....
"Yes, Exydian...it is true. Head Mistress Siridion is Shudoi." It amused Kier to see disgust crawl over his face. It takes a swine to know pigs...
"The school is doomed. If I were you, I would make sure she doesn't do something stupid, such as give the school to the Fell." He sighed lightly, moving away with a few steps, enough to make the manacles chime with reproval...
"You know perfectly well the Fell are under complete surveillance by the Fey now. And all the Shudoi are exiled with the Humanimals, and put to good work as miners. Even if this were not true, half the students are powerful enough to make a stand, and with me behind them, as well as at least half my own priests and deacons...she would not stand a chance. Even the god Magius would take part in striking her down, before she even made a stand against us. You have no basis for worry, Exydian." He huffed, not in disbelief, but more in disappointment that Kier would not immediately throw her out. "Now if you will excuse me, Exydian, I must attend to my duties, and you must now depart the Temple." Kier watched as the man was escorted from his sight, and breathed in relief. The nuisances of life...so taxing....and Idora remains silent to me...But why? Ever have I been faithful to you my lady. I have never disobeyed an order, nor ignored a hint. But now-complete silence? What am I to do if you will not speak to me?
Kier took a deep breath. All he needed now was a king to declare war- then the list of bad news would be complete. Not that I'm asking you for a war , my lady! His duties called him. He was supposed to be at devotion now, then to class, to lecture on the significance of the opals, and the color grey to Idora. After that, a demonstration of the powers of Idora's Manacles, to prove the power of faith. His duties called him.
Siridion Tuotanis Zuafinireh....the new Head Mistress....and second Supreme Power...
"You are blinded by hatred, my lord. One must see clearly in order to serve."
Master Vudaninn...you left too soon for us all... I do not think you made a wise choice here. A girl is one thing....A Shudoi is another....
She doesn't even know how to interact with another Power....
I fear for our children....
This will change everything for them......everything....
Can we do this?
Vudaninn....why did you do this?
You know how and why I feel this way about her...
Curse you Vudaninn.....even beyond the grave.....you seek to teach....
Kier put his hands in his face.
That squalling girl.
The rain. The unnatural fingers, too slender to be human.
Give us the child
She is ours now. You do not want her- she is Shudoi...
Give us the child. Give us the childGive us the childGive us the childGive us the childGive us the child.
You will see your error.
She is wild. She is animal. She is evil. She is ours.
Kier jerked back to the present, perspiration on his hands as he removed them from his face. A deacon, a young learner, was hesitantly peering in the room, obviously wishing it was anyone but him.
"My..lord...Priest Kovul told me to tell you...the Devotional is waiting...for you....are you alright?" Kier steadied his ragged breathing. I cannot be seen with a weakness, not now. Our enemies already have seen too much change here.
"I am fine, deacon. Tell Kovul I am coming presently." He left very quickly. Nothing like seeing the second to the gods looking queasy and frightened to scare the hair from your chest. Kier chuckled uneasily. The memories that hadn't plagued him in nearly ten years had suddenly reminded him that they had been simply hiding, not dispelled forever. My duties call me. I should go now. Go to Kovul, teach, lecture, demonstrate. My duties call me. Sighing, he made his way down the simple hall to room one. Rather than create confusion with numerous classrooms, the Temple had four rooms of learning, and the teachers and priests moved from group to group. Devotional was in room one now, for group three of the day. He didn't have to lecture it- but he tried to involve himself in at least one class per group per day, to show them even though he spoke to Idora, he was still mortal, like them. He hoped it brought them closer to her, to realize she was not an uncaring entity, but a goddess who involved herself with all her followers. As he entered, and all the girls and boys he thought of as children looked to him with respect and affection, his eyes misted over. This is what it is about, he thought lightly, this- the education of Idora's loved ones, the opening of the closed minds, the bringing to bloom the unopened flowers of souls.
"Glorious." He said softly. In the silence of their respect, the words he uttered were as loud as if he had been standing next to each one of them, and saying it directly to them personally. "Do you see how glorious this is?" Everyone looked around at each other with soft murmurs. He smiled, watching the group of thirty-odd, grey tunic wearing, children. "Each of you here, is seen by Idora. And do you know what she see's?" Murmurs of negation, the response he knew would be implied. "She see's a faithful child of her own, a girl or boy that will grow strong in their belief, and prove her power. She see's your hearts, full of love and strength. She see's your souls, full of worth, and untested power." The leading Priest, Kovul, sat on a cushion, like the students, and listened as well. "I speak to her constantly, and she is proud of her children. Very proud." Many girls and boys were smiling shyly at the praise, or lifting their chin in pride. It overjoyed him to see their zeal, to watch them strive so hard. "However..."
Sudden confusion and hesitancy, even in Kovul. He did not think anyone had ever heard him say 'however' during a Devotion before. He was sure it shocked them. But he had to address the Shudoi situation, and he might as well start with Devotion.
"However. I know many of you are confused, about Head Mistress Siridion." Complete and utter silence, and every eye was upon him in rapt fascination. "Head Mistress Siridion is Shudoi. For those of you that know why this is a subject of discontent, I would advise rational judgment and propriety. Head Mistress is still a Supreme Power. She still speaks with Magius, husband to Idora. She still commands the use of the Staff, and she is still to be obeyed in her school. She may well invite Shudoi to learn there, but there will be no Shudoi in this temple. Are there any questions?" Not one hand rose in the air. He waited a while, staring into each young one's eyes, in case a question was hovering, but merely afraid to be spoken. Still no hands. After a decent interval, he nodded to Kovul. "Continue then, priest. I will always be available if there are any questions wanted answered." Manacles chiming dully, Kier left, heading next to the classes he was to teach and participate in. In the next class he repeated the same lecture about Siridion, for some reason, always thinking of her words when his manacles chimed with his movements.
"You are blinded by hatred, my lord. One must see clearly in order to serve."
He knew no joy, until it was time to demonstrate the power of Idora in the last class he was scheduled to participate in. The eyes of the class watched him eagerly, whispers abounded.
"Children...settle. When you have been taught that Idora is all powerful, this is not necessarily true. Even she must obey the laws of the worlds she visits. In our world, water may not become fire. Air may not become dirt, and tree's many not become animals. This distorts the laws of nature, and disrupts the balances that make up our world. But she may manipulate them, as does Magius." He presented the Manacles, whipping off his robe to hang it neatly on a peg by the door. He turned back to the children, and the few deacons watching. He knew they might be slightly surprised that he had taken off the robe. No one had really seen him ever without it. Underneath, contrary to most of the children's imaginations, he wore only a simple grey tunic like the students, with a few changes. While the students wore long sleeves, he wore a short sleeved shirt, which displayed the Manacles completely. No more glimpses of metal and loops. Some few craned their necks to see better, whispering amongst themselves excitedly. Kier straightened his belt, causing the Manacles to chime unhindered.
Opal radiance blinded the ones who had blocked the view of others. He swiftly hushed the loops, bringing them to a sway under his arms carefully, the radiance dying back to a brilliant sheen.
"As you see....the opals, the symbol of life and harmony, know the power of their lords, the gods, and answer the chimes with light. Anything of evil, and darkness, cannot stand the chimes, and wither at the touch of the opals. Combine them, and you will never fail to destroy an evil being." Kier kneeled carefully, arranging the baggy pants he wore to sit well with him. "Watch carefully." Raising his arms, he suddenly crossed them, bringing the metal loops to touch. As the triple chorus of metal rang out, a shudder under the earth nearly caysed a panic among the students. A few screeched or yelled, standing. The priests nearby indicated all should sit. Kier never having moved an inch, separated his arms slowly. Before their eyes, and feet, a crack opened up in the floor, the earth shaking, the entire building swaying as the foundation split open.
"It is easy to destroy. Only cowards, fools, and lazy minds destroy." Moving his arms back together, he clinked the chimes again, and stilled them with each opposite hand. Slowly the earth moved together once more, dust falling from the ceiling as the building shook yet again. When finally, the two halves met, a loud impact swept through the very bones of the class, and through the temple, until the only sign there was a disturbance, was the chatter of surprised students, and a crack in the floor. And of course, dust on the heads of the slack-jawed class.
"But, only the clever, the kind, and the brave, may create, heal, and fix that which was destroyed. Think of it, class. Only the ones with hearts towards the harmony of the world, may affect it with a lasting impression. Wars end. Sicknesses heal. Plants regrow. Children are born. Water dries up. Fires burn out. All horrible things end, but good things go on forever. Idora stands for freedom and light-both of which are never to be earned nor bought. Both are things every individual in this realm has a right to." Kier returned his cloak to its rightful place on his back, and watched the class, noting which eyes were turned within in thought, or which were staring at the crack in awe, and which few were grinning at him like little maniacs.
"That's the end of demonstration for today. Priest Kovul will teach you the rest." He ignored the disappointed groans and moans, leaving to return to his room. Tonight he would not stop trying until he reached Idora. He needed her council, and presence more than anything else he could think of.
Without her guidance......................................I am lost.
Siridion kneeled. Taking a calming breath, she gently thumped the Staff on the ground, three times.
She looked up to the statue of the violet buck reverently. It hadn't moved, nor changed in any way. She didn't know what she expected, perhaps a puff of smoke, an earthquake maybe, or even a few sparkles would have been nice. She tried again.
Chang-clink-clink... She looked down at the ground, even pressing her forehead to the stone floor of the little prayer room.
"My lord Magius? It is your servant, Siridion Tuotanis-."
ZUAFINIREH. She widened her eyes at the ground. The thundering voice echoed in her head like a cavern of lions.
"M..my lord?" Excitement and happiness beyond belief swept through her. She was speaking to the god of power and time! Her hold on the Staff trembled as she fought to keep from fainting or blacking out in relief. I am the new Supreme power...I almost doubted until now..... A large, violet stone hoof, cloven as the bucks, appeared in her sight. Her throat closed up as she stoically kept her gaze down.
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR SOMETHING? A SMALL STONE PERHAPS? She blinked in confusion.
"Ex..cuse me my lord?" Silent, but tangible laughter tickled her mind, a deep touch that sent tingles down her spine, making her feel weak and quiet.
THEN YOU ENJOY KNEELING? She blushed, hazarding a look up, catching a glance of a stone leg, and a barrel body, before she got too scared to offend him, and looked back down.
"I...am supposed to kneel and grovel before a god..."
SAYS WHO? I CERTAINLY DON'T RECALL EVER SAYING THAT. She blinked. This was not what she had expected. Sitting up slowly, she raised her gaze to see all of him, and gasped. He had taken the form of the stone buck, standing seven feet tall, pure violet stone, with antlers that rose above his head for three feet. The only thing about the buck that had changed were the eyes. Fire burned in those eyes, fire and ice, and wind....and eternity. Stars burned and died, were reborn and died again, continuously in those large eyes. She remained kneeling, thinking that she couldn't possibly stand before the great god Magius.
"I...assumed...didn't Master Vudaninn?"
THEY ALL GROVEL THE FIRST TIME, AND I HAVE YET TO FIGURE OUT WHY. SO MY CHILD. THE MANTLE HAS PASSED TO YOU, TO WIELD MY STAFF.POWERFUL, IS IT NOT?She blinked, speechless. The buck tilted its head in interest, and once more, laughter filled her mind with feelings and images that she couldn't remember the second they had melted from her head.
"I...haven't used it yet, except to claim the title of Supreme Power for the school..." The buck, Magius, delicately stepped towards her.
TO WHAT PURPOSE HAVE YOU CALLED? PROBLEMS? She blushed, suddenly afraid he would be upset that she had no real purpose for calling him to her.
"I...please forgive me Magius. I have no reason except to ask what you would have me do..."
LIVE. ANYTHING ELSE? She blinked. This time the buck threw its head about in laughter-
an outwardly silent mirth, but an inward cascade of boulders, thundering down a mountainside.
OH MY CHILD, WHY DO ALL MORTALS ASSUME WE GODS HAVE NO OTHER AMUSEMENT THAN TO ORDER YOU ABOUT FOR NO REASON? IF I HAVE A CONCERN, THEN I WILL CALL YOU TO MY SIDE.
"How, my lord?" He tossed his head, the antlers swaying with it.
I THINK YOU WILL KNOW, SIRIDION. NOW, THINK CAREFULLY. ANY QUESTIONS? She blushed and began to think, then suddenly realized she DID have questions that until now, had merely been whispers at the back of her mind.
"The Crux...how do I make him see the Shudoi do not deserve such treatment?"
HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY DO NOT? Immediate denial rose in her throat, clenched back only by the knowledge that it was to her god she spoke.
"They do not! The ones who tended me when I was young, were kind and good, who did no wrong!"
YOU ASSUME ALL SHUDOI ARE GOOD FROM THEIR ONE EXAMPLE?
"Well, yes...and it was so long ago..surely they have changed..."
YOU SOUND HESITANT NOW....DON'T YOU REMEMBER YOUR YOUTH? She started to say yes, then stopped. When she thought back to her childhood, she saw only Master Vudaninn....when she began to think harder, she saw only vague images of hands and tails, and felt happy feelings, feelings of kindness and love.
"I do not remember exactly....but if they treated me well, then surely they have changed in time. The Shudoi are not evil, they were only siding with the Fell because they didn't know better...." She trailed off, frowning. It did sound like a weak argument, even to her own ears. How could she convince him, if she couldn't even make heads nor tails of it herself? She looked up at the god pleadingly. "Can't you just tell him to believe me?"
I THINK IDORA MIGHT BE A BIT UPSET IF I GO AROUND TELLING HER ACOLYTES WHAT TO DO, DON'T YOU THINK? BESIDES, IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE WAY YOU WERE SHOWN, IS THE WAY HE SHOULD BE SHOWN. DON'T YOU AGREE?
"You mean...show by example? So I may admit Shudoi into the school? He will turn a blind eye to my actions then...He believes I will show them favor over the others."
I NEVER SAID ADMIT THEM SO SOON. THE CRUX KNOWS ONLY WHAT HE SEE'S, LIKE SO MANY MORTALS. THE MEMORY HE HOLDS IS LIKE A CANVAS, WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE SHUDOI AS COWARDS AND BEASTS. PAINT HIM A NEW ONE.
"I think I see, my lord...thank you. Does the choice of the new Supreme Power please you?" His head lowered to look her straight in the eyes, mirth present once more in the voice that boomed in her mind.
PLEASE ME? CHILD...I TOLD VUDANINN WHO TO CHOOSE. THINK YOU I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL OVER TO WHOM I SPEAK TO FOR THE NEXT NEAR MILLENNIA?
She was speechless, with pleasure and lack of more questions. She knew her duties, and her role in the school.
"Then, I thank you my lord, for guiding me, and for the advice. I will try to follow it as best I can." When no answer came her way, she looked up. The buck was in it's place, the eyes nothing more than inset opals, as before. He was gone, as unobtrusively as he had arrived. Well...that was more than I had thought, and yet....he was not what I expected...not by a long shot. She remained kneeling, a new worry added to her shoulders. Why can't I remember the Shudoi? I wasn't that little, was I? Master Vudaninn told me I was six when I came...surely I would have memories of my father and mother...at least...all I remember is that we were poor, I was taken care of...and...I was happy....why can't I remember? She sighed.
"Show the Crux by example...how?"
"I serve you without thought, without question, without murmur or regret....." Again...
"Without you, I know life would be barren, without you, life would be a void from which the only escape would be death....." Or a mad, screaming fit...
"Idora, my goddess, my Mistress...please answer your humble servant...." Kier bowed his head over the floor, his hands flat against the cold stone. The words tumbled from his lips as they had been doing for three straight hours..his throat was raw from chanting endlessly, his knee's had gone numb nearly an hour past, and the candles around him were guttering out, their faint light ending as their lives were consumed by flame. She isn't going to answer... He dropped his head completely down, leaning forward to rest his feverish skin on the soothing chill of the stone beneath him. Silence, blessed, and cursed silence, crowded around him, clutching him in its insubstantial embrace.
"Why have you forsaken me, my lady? Is it something I have done?" With the most in-audible of hisses, one candle died, its purpose completed with the curling of the wick. Kier let out a dry chuckle.
"Even the candles forsake me now."
Hissss.............Another candle gone.
"My lady....the boy would have died anyway....I could not have saved him..."
"He was too ill for me to try. I might have died as well, my lady, and then, who would have taken the Manacles? Vudaninn was dying....I have no apprentice....It would have plunged us into chaos..."
Hisss.......Every candle died simultaneously. Kier opened his eyes as the darkness struck him. To have darkness in the Temple of Light...The irony forced him to cough out a laugh painfully.
"You are angry with me. I see this now." he added with just a hint of sarcasm. "But tell me where I have failed you, do not let me linger in the...." he chuckled. "Dark. Tell me why this angers you so." The window he kneeled in front of, the one with the raven, suddenly burst into light.
How dare you mock. First lack of faith, then lack of respect? Kier quickly shielded his eyes in pain.
You did not trust that I would keep my Crux from dying? Especially when healing an ill child? Especially healing an ill child-from my Temple? Lack of faith! Lack of faith in me, in yourself, and in the power of the Manacles!
"My lady!" he cried out, blinded, and in pain, tears pouring from his smarting eyes. "Please forgive me! I did not mean to imply I had lack of faith! I did not wish to test you-to make you save me if I chose to endanger myself!"
You are my Crux! You are my chosen! I would save you had you insulted all the gods of the nine hells themselves! No, no excuses, fear drove you to stay your hand- fear of death-and so lack of faith! With a start, he realized what she said was true. When faced with the horrendously ill child brought in by the peasants, he had balked. They knew their child was dying, was beyond saving, and had only come for the last rites provided for doomed souls. The boy had not even been aware anymore, aware of his parents, or life, or even of pain. At least he had that. Kier had hoped he could heal the boy, but one look, and he knew the cost might be too dire, so he had said nothing, tried nothing...and eased the child into the afterlife. The lingering guilt he had felt all this time had eaten at him, at the back of his head a voice had whispered 'you could have tried'. His head hung once more, in abject shame and humiliation.
"As always...you are right, my lady. I do not deserve to wear the Manacles." The light softened somewhat, yet still pulsed behind the raven, eyes of opals glaring with rainbow lights, to flash over Kier and the bare wall behind him.
Oh my son....all mortals have their weaknesses and missteps. It is imperative to life. Next time you will try- with all your might, knowing I am here to stop the grains of death from falling. He opened his eyes, keeping them focused on the floor, on the stones that were so highly outlined with light, and their sharp shadows behind them.
"I will, my lady."
And that is the point of mistakes-to learn. Now my son, what ails you? The girl...the one with a tail that you so despise.... He bristled.
"She is Shudoi, my lady, the race of the deceivers! Vudaninn chose her to-,"
Wrong my son. My lord chose her. She is special, as you well know, and the fates of many reside in her to decide the future of. The Shudoi is a race, as are 'Elves', and 'Humanimals'. Even 'gods' are a race. 'All gods'- cannot be. 'all Humanimals'-cannot be. There can only be 'some Elves' or 'most Draconians'. You know this, Kier Athmyr Secorialithirian! At the mention of his full name, his hand flew up of its own accord to touch his ear softly, almost as in an afterthought. Yes....it is true...not all Elves....not all....Shudoi... Sourly, he sat upright, realizing what she was implying.
"Does this mean I must let the Shudoi into my Temple?"
YOUR temple? No.....but MY Temple? ....Yes. Sheepishly, he inclined his head in apology.
"Forgive me my lady."
Did I miss something? Did you become a god when my back was turned? He snorted in laughter before remembering his place, and stifling it belatedly.
"I have not, my lady, forgive me for implying it was mine, and not yours. Of course, I will do as you say. But my lady....Siridion...."
You watch over my sons and daughters. Magius will watch over her.
"But what of the memories I have begun to have again? Vudaninn-,"
The wheel of fate is spinning my son, and many things have begun that will not end without a struggle. The hourglass of events was tipped that night, and the second Vudaninn breathed his last...things were unleashed to proceed as they will. He frowned, chills beginning to run down his back.
GIVE US THE CHILD!
Watch the Shudoi if you must- but remember there are other evils in this world, many more than just the evils you see in the Shudoi.
"My lady, should Siridion...what should I do about these memories?"
Do what you must. I am not concerned with Siridion. Magius rules there.........Kier......you do know you will eventually have toSPEAK with Siridion.....don't you? He shifted uneasily.
"Must I? She....troubles me." Tinkling laughter danced around his room in the form of rainbows.
.....This will be interesting.
"What will, my lady?" The light faded, leaving only dancing laughter...and eventually, that too was soon gone, leaving him in darkness even worse than before, his eyes having gotten used to the incredible light of his goddess. Wryly, he gestured in the pitch black.
Pff! Every candle flared back into life almost cheerfully.