]]art log 4975 12 16 0731 Ndidi: “The toxins might have already done damage.”
]]art log 4975 12 16 0731 Answe: “The Aans are quite resistant to those amalgams.”
I read Norii Mazil’s piece over a number of times, as if I cannot help it, as if the words are lodestone to draw my mind back to it over and over again, like a prisoner in solitary confinement, drawn to a coal to burn one’s self over and over. It was the pain that reminded you you were still alive and to keep on breathing.
The Yeoli the Gods have named Their own
By Norii Maziel
All Arko was divided into two parties, by prediction. He had a plan to fake it, or do a easy, safe version, that would be a mockery. Or: he was mad, and the Temple would make short work of him.
Bets were hedged. Plans were made. Conspiracies were hatched. In the taverns of Arko, the talk was: what would become of us, on his death? Would the conquering minions simply leave, in which case, would one of the rare surviving Arkan generals seize the reins, or a quick-thinking Aitzas, or even Kurkas’s son Minis, who must now be fourteen, making his entrance from the wilderness? Or would the motley allies take to fighting among themselves for control of the Crystal Throne, by the order, perhaps, of their distant kings? Above all, in the ensuing chaos, would the lefaeti, water and mail keep running, the produce still come into the markets, and everybody remain able to go about their business as usual?
What no one expected was that Shefen-kas, undertaking the full, merciless Ascension Ritual, the execution of the ten sets of ten steps that is either flawless or fatal, would succeed.
There are those who still swear that he did fake it. The Fenjitzas has stated officially that the ritual was genuine, though, and it’s hard to imagine how what transpired in the Temple before the eyes of thousands of Arkans could possibly be faked.
At the start, the spectators were grim, or openly hostile, or grinning in smug anticipation of seeing the loathsome barbarian conqueror come to a gratifyingly horrific end. By the end, they were cheering madly for him, tears running freely, the colour of his hair and the place of his birth making no difference. Viewing the Ten Tens has always been said to be a transformative experience, an earthly immersion in the divine principle of impossibility made manifest. How much greater the impossibility of it being performed by a Yeoli, by definition an atheist?
On the street, the idea that it was the will of the Gods that Arko be cleansed of the corrupt Aan line, even if it must be by blood and fire at the hands of a black and curly-haired foreigner, is fast becoming accepted wisdom.
And Fourth Shefen-kas Sharanoias, sacker of the City, former slave of the Mezem, who has arguably suffered more at the hands of the late Imperator than anyone else living, now takes on the sacred mantle of the Chosen of the Ten and Son of the Sun.
Most who have worn that mantle in the past have not been as open to inquisitive scribes asking how they did it. Of course, when it is traditional for Sparks of the Sun’s Ray to begin daily practice of the Ten Tens movements at first threshold and continue unbroken until they ascend, it’s not usually quite so baffling.
“There was only one way,” the Imperator tells me, speaking early the morning after, the celebratory crowds mostly cleared. “I gave myself…” His voice chokes silent, his eyes filling with the characteristic easy, unabashed tears. “To the Gods. I let Them rule me.”
Since when did a Yeoli begin even believing in the Gods of Arko, let alone being ruled by them?
“It began… bear with me. I can’t speak about this without crying. It began the night of the day I crossed into Arkan land. I had a dream. Then more dreams. I didn’t understand at first; I didn’t know who these perfect Arkan people were who kept visiting me at night, and saying, ‘Obey us, for the sake of Our people, who will be yours.’ I thought, ‘My people? My people are Yeola-e.’ I can’t tell you how stunned I was, when I understood. I can’t say more, I’m sorry; you know, you never want to anger a God. I will just say… They were my teachers.”
Was he confident beforehand?
“The moment I learned what the Ten Tens was, I knew I must do it. Whether I could or not was not a concern.”
By all reports, he felt the same way about liberating Yeola-e from Arkan occupation.
What was doing the Ten Tens like?
The tears intensify. “I can’t begin to describe it… but you were there, Norii, you watched. I felt exactly as I looked like I felt.”
Spiritual ecstasy. Spiritual agony. Spiritual terror. Sexual ecstasy. He went through it all, and he did indeed express it physically. There are two ways the Ten Tens can be done: by rote, or by divine possession. The histories say repeatedly that the hallmark of the latter method is an unearthly grace and ease of motion, beyond what the merely mortal Imperator is normally capable of, since he gives himself entirely to direction by perfect beings. No one who watched Shefen-kas’s Ten Tens denies that that’s what they saw.
What does this mean to Arko?
Shefen-kas makes no claim, no grandiose declaration of legitimacy, no triumphant demand for allegiance. He says, “That is not for me to say. You want to know what it means to Arko, you’ll have to ask Arko.”
I cut the paper out carefully with the tip of my dagger and folded it carefully into the frontispiece of my Holy Book.
It wasn’t sun-up yet. There was ice on the needles, the thorn bushes, the tufts of grass, darkening the rocks poking out of the thin soil to a steaming black. I was freezing but knew better than to complain, or show it.
The armour was beginning to feel normal. I was starting to feel odd without it on. I checked the dates on the pages… the pages and pages of Pages and realized we were coming up on Ilesias’s birthday and I had not been able to add to the ride in the Marble Palace. I wondered if the mechanism had been smashed. I wondered if that whole wing was still there. The Pages had said the Palace was mostly untouched. The fat man… had hung over the Presentation balcony for almost five days.
I mustn’t think of that. The Marble Palace was still there. Chevenga had done the Ten Tens. Arko would go on.
“All right, Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Your obstacle course is thus.” 2nd Amitzas pointed everthing out with his stick as he stood next to me. I felt like I could smell his darkness. It was like chewing on the edge of the armour, a faint alchemical whiff as though he’d risen out of one of the pharmacist’s vials.
I stank worse than he did because, as he explained, padding in the field cannot truly be cleaned. It will always smell. Ambushes had been discovered and armies in the field found by smell alone. I wondered how he removed the smell from his own padding since he did not seem to suffer from it.
“You will crawl under this deadfall. Make your way through this brushed area without being seen and tagged and retrieve the marker.” Wonderful. That pasture would have two Mahid. Only two because of my inexperience and both of whom would be better at this than I. They’d be armed with ‘ink’bags, loose cotton filled with soot. If he didn’t have a limited amount of ammunition I’m sure the First Second would have preferred to use stun darts. I hadn’t made it unscathed through that blasted pasture yet. “Once you have attempted the pasture, you will continue back along the top of the deadfall this time. Up that tree, around and down. Onto the horse. Over the horse.” Without getting kicked or bitten, or have it pull loose make me chase it half the day, then fart in my face, or step on me. “Finish by climbing up that rock face. At the ledge – there. Should you reach it unmarked – you will be allowed to stop.”
And if I did get marked I got to start again.
The 1st 2nd thrust his stick under his arm and clicked open the timer. “Begin.”
I didn’t just dive for the most obvious opening this time. The first time I’d run myself into the snare set in the convenient hole. This time there was no snare but I took the time to check. Clear. I managed to scrape through the hole, but before I slithered out I checked the clearing in the icy morning light. No Mahid waiting above the hole to nail me in the head. No Mahid in that tree. Hmm. Amitzas had said I needed to go under the deadfall. He hadn’t said I couldn’t back-track.
I inched sideways slightly and managed to peek under my own armpit to look back. No black boots waiting out there. Then I looked sideways, left and right. There was a broken branch there that I might squeeze under without too much noise.
I peered out into a shadow, just in time to see a Mahid – Joras, ghost into position on the other side of the opening, obviously focused on the hole. His back up had to be there. Somewhere. There. 8th Itasas, one of the young ones. He was in the middle of a pine up against the trunk. His perfect face scanned slowly, hardly moving at all. Very hard to see. I knew he enjoyed tagging me. He was just my age.
Itasas signaled Joras, who eased over the deadfall to check and see if I were still in the hole. I moved sideways and out into a cluster of small feather needles that covered me completely. I stood still to not rattle and they drifted past me like shadows.
I held my breath.
Then, when they realized I had gotten out without them seeing, they headed to my target, an old oak with a black glove tucked into a twig at the base. I followed after them as they tried to pick up my trail. I had never managed this before.
Joras, the man back, kept back checking so I had to follow carefully. I had to be a shadow, a spirit, even covered in clattering metal. I stepped when they stepped, stopped when they did. A thick stand of something with bright gold needles hid me, right at the end. I eased down into a crouch as the two of them checked every easy path, all around. They stood back to back and then Joras bent down, set his hands into a stirrup. Itasas stepped into the cupped hands and was lifted up smoothly to give him height.
Since I was unarmed and unable to hit him that made sense in a way. I sat. There was no way for him to see me, if I didn’t move. They weren’t allowed to stand over the marker, the glove. Gannara had overheard the 1st 2nd instruct them the first time and had told me.
Itasas was lowered and Joras tapped him, sent him off one direction. Took the other. I waited. They might just have retreated out of sight to make me reveal myself. In the middle of the pasture a partridge or some kind of bird flew up suddenly. There was my chance. I counted to a slow twenty, eased out, checking.
The glove safely in my belt I ran. I heard them, in the pasture as they realized they’d missed me. I ran a dozen steps, turned sideways, jumped before lying down and wiggling under a bunch of some knee-high plants with broad flat leaves that hadn’t frozen off yet.
I waited until they were at the oak… back behind me. I wiggled into a depression and down along it. I crawled the whole way back, careful not to alert them. I didn’t run over the deadfall, spotted the trap that would have knocked me down had I tried to stand up.
The path was trapped… it always was. I eased over the trip-traps, ducked off the path to avoid the deadfall. It was only a sapling, not a log but still embarrassing to have it fall on you. Ran zig-zag for the tree.
I was going to make it. This time I was going to make it. I climbed the tree, swung around, avoided the sawn branch that would haved dumped me on my rear. I grabbed the horse’s reins and made it up and over fast, ducking the flung missile, ground-tied the horse. Another missile dodged.
The most dangerous part was now. I would be most exposed on the rock face. I’d made it… I’d made it so far. I’d made it. How had I made it? Where was the trap?
Where? My stomach was in a knot expecting a new trap, a more fiendish trap. No one emerged from the bushes. I was half-way up. Where was the trap? No loose rocks. No ‘rope’ that stood for a serpent or a poisoned needle. I was within arm’s reach of the ledge, only one more reach and I wouldn’t have to do this again today. I wanted it so badly I could taste it.
2nd Amitzas stepped out on top of the rock and I looked up. “Excellent so far.” He flipped the timer shut. “And arm’s length from victory, you paused.” He dropped a marker bag on my head. “Do it differently this time.”