SHEFENKAS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETES TEN TENS!
I stared down at the headline as if it were staring back at me. The whole front page was devoted to it; in fact most of the Pages was devoted to stories about the ‘most moving Ten Tens’ in living history.
“Teary-eyed Crowd Watches in Stunned Amazement”
“Yeoli Performs Ritual Flawlessly”
I knew he could do it. Ailadas ‘ahemed’ at me a couple of times. “You see, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, he did find a way to feign the Ascension ritual.” I sat in my wooden Palace, sweating into armour padding. I was not mad. They all were. My taking back the Empire had just become howling at the moon crazy and my chances – even if I truly wanted to – had become less than non-existent.
I folded the Pages neatly so the biggest headline… the Banner… lay face-up, smoothing the crease with my thumbnail. “Ailadas. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but could I have a few moments in private, if you please?”
“Oh, ahem, oh, certainly, Spark… Minis…” It was so hard to get him to throw away that formality.
“If you could inform my guardian that this was my request, so you don’t get in trouble for letting me slacken off, please?”
“Ahem. If it becomes necessary, I will – ahem --- of course do that.” He left his things. I needed to be in privacy. I couldn’t let anyone see what was boiling in me. I couldn’t let anyone see it.
“Gannara, could you go get me… something… anything… um… did Matthas bring kaf beans?”
He looked at me as though I was going to run mad. In a way I felt I might, if I didn’t get some time to just be alone. The top of my head felt like it was going to pop off as though 2nd Amitzas had an iron and wood cage around it and tightening the screws. Gannara nodded to me and himself. “I’ll be gone a while, checking… maybe he did buy some kaf.” And finally, blessedly, he left me, shutting the door. I sat in the blessed dimness and finally let the tears come.
I had hoped. I had prayed, to the Goddess at least in the hope that the Ten might forgive me for being my Father’s son, for being an Aan and a Mahid both. The Pages crackled under my hands as my hands clenched on them. He deserved it. Chevenga deserved to be raised up so high. I knew it and had steadfastly ignored it because to acknowledge it was to embrace my own place in the Universe.
I had thought I had found the deepest darkness when I wrote about my damnation, but there was still a doubt about it. I still had the possibility of salvation if I lived long enough. “The blood of the Father flows in the veins of the Son,” I whispered into the dimness, quoting the Book.
The tears hadn’t spilled… they stood in my eyes as though my bottom lids were rimmed. “The Gods choose. The Gods raise who they will. And will cast into the bottomless pit the tainted, the dark, the deformed. The Sun will devour them all and deepest space will diminish them. Their breath will burst out of them, their blood will boil and their eternity will be smothering.”
The tears spilled out, finally and I knew… I knew that I was damned. I was lost. There was no salvation for me in this life or the next. I put my head down on the Pages and pounded my fists against the desk on either side. And for the rest of my life… however long I could bear it, I would be captive in a brutal man’s hands. “Out of the depths of despair, I cry… I cry to thee oh Lord…”
I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I mustn’t. The Aan line was done, flushed down the drain. The Gods had raised a true Imperator and His duty to the Empire, to the People and to the Gods, would be to find me, and kill me. It was His duty to do so, no matter what He felt, it would be what duty demanded. He would do His best to do His duty by the Empire. He would do Semana kra for Arko, to the limit of His strength.
It was even a law in Arko. I was a threat to the legitimate Imperator, approved by the Gods. They... the Ten... loved Him as much as I did. I clenched my eyes shut and knocked my head against the desk, feeling the paper under it. I did. I loved Him. My memory was filled with that night again and I cried out in choked horror when my genitals tightened at the memory. No wonder. No wonder the Gods hated me. How was I going to bear this? The weight of one God’s hatred was more than enough to crush me. How was I going to bear this?
Is that noise, me? I didn’t know I could even make a sound like that. My sobs broke deep and I sounded like a man weeping, not a child. I’d heard enough men in agony to know the sound. I heard the latch click as Gannara rattled it and I clamped my lips shut on the noise, swallowed the lump of suffering. It went down like it was on fire but I found my silence again. Somehow I raised my head and turned away from the door as it opened.
I… had to make myself stone. A stone pillar had a chance of surviving the weight of a building. Stone. For now… I would do what I must. “Did…” I had to swallow harder. “Did Matthas bring kaf?”