KAMI HAD DIFFICULTY judging time, but it seemed like days before Avestar returned. He took her back to the temple.
Soulless stone and flickering wax candles filled the interior. In the temple, where men offered mere moments of their lives to that which they believed gave them life, she sensed madness creeping upon her again, like a sea monster beneath a deceptive current. She wondered if the feeling of insanity arose not from Avestar but from his city.
“We achieve spiritual maturity through increasing selectivity of attention.” Avestar sat cross-legged in front of her, his knees touching hers, his attention penetrating her like a hand squeezing her heart. “We distinguish self from not-self,” he continued, “turning awareness on our physical bodies as the origin of ‘self’ and what separates us from others. Then we distinguish life from death, focusing awareness on the ‘self’ that is by definition, alive. Next, we distinguish mind from body, focusing awareness on what seems to be under our control, the belief of ‘self.’ And, finally, we distinguish acceptable parts of ourselves from those we find unacceptable. That leaves us divided, divided from other people, from our bodies, from our desires, from the Father.”
“She said you were a monster.” The warmth in Avestar’s eyes brought tears to Kami’s, and she continued. “She said Sahrdon was a city of torture, where thousands were enslaved and children died in the arena.”
“As Emissary in the Thirty-Second Generation and Architect in the Second, we’re merely an instrument, bringing the Father where he’s needed.” He waited as if he expected a reply, but she didn’t know what to say. He added, “The arena has been silent since she left.”
Kami’s will wasn’t her own when he was near, but his power wasn’t altogether clear. He was not quite what he appeared, but she couldn’t seem to free herself from a desire to please him. She tried to open her mind to possibilities, but she couldn’t command any independent faculty. Maybe she was confused because Avestar was confused.
She thought if she could provoke him, like she did so often with Avestine, she might see more of what lay beneath his placid gaze. But she didn’t know what would stir his wrath, so she guessed. “Your sister said you were cruel.”
“Cruelty is an act of pride, and you’ll find, although we suspect you already know, that she’s a prideful woman. Like the Essanti. Isn’t that the very nature of the Essanti, after all, to serve men, and by serving men to control them? Without the freedom to act on something greater, men become instruments of destruction.”
“Your power depends on men obeying you, and you’re the most powerful man in the world.”
Avestar’s eyes widened with amusement. “You grant us greatness we don’t deserve. We struggle moment-to-moment to overcome our compulsions, so we know well that there are far more powerful men. We know our Confessor of the First Order struggles hour-to-hour and sometimes only day-to-day. He’s a man of great wisdom.”
“But your armies, your lands.”
“Oh,” he said dismissively.
When the ground suddenly shifted, Kami braced herself and cast about for the cause. Dust, disturbed by the rumbling ground, puffed in small clouds from the building’s joints.
“Coth is dreaming.”
Kami felt disoriented again, as if she were tilting on a precipice. She whispered, “I don’t know what’s real. I’ve lost time. I’ve lost everything.”
“The imperial advisors told us you completed your training, but you weren’t bound. You’re fortunate we found you. We’ve saved you from becoming a tool of destruction. The Essanti follow the ancient teaching, their training a mystical show, using symbols for instruction. But the archetypes don’t need the lies of generations. There is a truth here she didn’t wish you to know. You can still be saved, Kami.”
“I don’t understand.”
Avestar watched her as if he wrestled with revealing something he didn’t wish to.
“Tell me,” said Kami. “Please tell me why you hate me.”
“Hating you would mean hating what we recognize in you, and all we can recognize is what we, ourselves, are.”
“You can’t lie to me. Avestine couldn’t either.”
“Then…that’s why. You know things you shouldn’t know, things you’ve no right to.”
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
“How does one kill a god?”
“I’m not a god.”
He leaned toward her, his gracious manner falling away to be replaced with spite. His vehemence surprised Kami, frightened her. “Arujan belongs to me,” he said, his imperial manner gone. “I’m the Emissary. I’m the Avatar. You’re here because of me, and you should remember that, because after the Darkwar, all that will matter is Law. Arujan’s law. My law. Darklaw.” He studied her face for a moment before leaning away and regaining his calm. “She hasn’t told you?”
“Told me what?”
“That she chose to serve her heart rather than her god. She betrayed Arujan for a girl. Who do you suppose that girl was, Kami?”
She shook her head slightly.
“A whore’s daughter meant for an impaling rod.”
Kami flinched at the thought and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Yes, we knew about you. The last Essanti on the coast. That’s why she made her stand at Featherwood. She let us burn Elderwood to the ground. All those people. Women, children, but she wouldn’t give up Featherwood. Just for you. Your death would have saved hundreds. What’s so special about you? Why would she give up her throne and her daughter for you?”
Kami couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down her face. She had no words. No thoughts. She just braced for more revelations.
He glanced away. “She thought she was a father’s son, but we showed her otherwise, made her a woman, and she’s deceptive in the way women are. Our mating fulfilled the prophesy. The Darklord has come of age. What did she tell you about her daughter? Did she tell you she tried to drown the infant?”
Closing her eyes, Kami fought back tears of horror, of loss, of exhaustion. She was confused beyond any hope of understanding. Like Avestine, Avestar had a sophisticated ability to manipulate. Each was rapacious, but each expressed that darkness in a unique way.
“The training left you vulnerable, an open wound in need of healing,” said Avestar. “We’ll give you that healing, true healing, not what our sister offered.”
Kami heard herself laughing, a shocking sound and then a terrifying one when she saw the reaction it drew from Avestar. Unlike Avestine, Avestar struck her with a closed fist.
She held her jaw and tasted blood. Her emotional exhaustion had her giggling, and she righted herself, returning to her cross-legged position on the floor in front of him.
The indignation that had inflamed his features for a moment changed to a shade of undisguised fear, and Kami realized he had expected a different reaction from her. Her provocation had worked, revealing something he had wished to hide: his gentleness was a weapon. She wondered if he had used it as effectively with his sister.
“You serve the Emanation of Instinct,” he said, his blue eyes gliding up and down her body. “You serve sensation, a lower order of awareness. Our father had your kind tied up in his courtyard. Sometimes, we would throw bones or rouse the dogs against them, but we never understood what they were good for. It’s time to find out. You serve the Emissary.”
“Avestine is the Emissary.” Avestar’s fist again sent her to the floor, and her cynicism was delighted with the accuracy of its predictions.
She righted herself with some effort as Avestar drew her to him. He had dressed her in a gown, a simple tan frock, and now she knew why. It gave him easy access.
He reached under it with thieving hands, thinking to steal what was most valuable to her. He had called Instinct a lower order of awareness, but through it, Kami knew he couldn’t take anything from her she didn’t give.
Three priests had been watching, but Kami had not noticed them until their excited hands began to heat her skin. They explored her body as if they were in a race. The rough stubble of a beard dragged across one nipple, and when lips brushed hers, she slapped at the face. Another tried, and she slapped it away, too.
Strong hands pinned her wrists and spread her legs. The chasm at the center of her only seemed to grow emptier with each penetration, until she opened her eyes to see the priests putting on their robes. They each looked weary, and she raged more against the lie made of their virile bodies than at the crime made against her.
Despite his passive spiritual philosophy, Avestar was as ruthless as his sister. His first means to breaking her spirit was to share her with the temple priests, but she had shown such resilience that he later shared her with his domestics, thinking that servicing slaves would humiliate her in another way.
He was ignorant of her exigencies, and it was when Kami thought of that, that she thought of Avestine and how well she did understand them. Maybe it was because Avestine was a woman, or maybe it was because she was companioned by so much horror, but her ruthlessness showed a sort of honesty Kami valued.
Kami was coming to see the warmth in Avestar’s eyes was not the kindness that comforted her when she first met him. At the very center of him was a lie.
Published in Darklaw |
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved. |