Friday, October 29, 2010

371 - Meeting on the Road

The moon had just cleared the cypresses. Things were about to become less chaotic.  I and 3rd Amitzas stood in the deepest shadows, right on the edge of forest dark. I despised this wilderness and considered allowing myself to long for a more orderly city.
The Spark of the Sun’s Ray is returning.  From my vantage point I could see the road down the hill.  My vantage disappeared around that bend but there was a water meadow below and a glimpse of road was visible before turning to climb this hill where we waited.  We would see his motion as he came along it.
The Senior was waiting for us.  The rest were waiting for my double squad to bring the Spark back into the fold.  I did not need to check their positioning around the road.  I knew that two of our squad would be in the trees to give them the best vantage. There were four, two and two flanking the road, and the last two were acting as men-back, ready to report to the camp.  15th Iakobas would report, once we’d made contact, running the deer trails leading to our camp.  15th Eforas would wait in hiding, should anything go wrong after that contact. We knew the straight route through the thick underbrush, rather than being confused in the tangled animal trails.
Our onyxine was a faded, rusty black. I made a note that this was actually harder to see in the dark.  Both of us were somewhat thinner than optimum fighting weight, but that shall be corrected I am certain.
3rd Amitzas said “There are two upon the road.”
“Plan 2, then.” I said, just as quietly. He notified the rest of the squad.  He was competent at sounding like various night creatures.  I made a note to commend his work to the Senior.
The second man turned out to be one of ours.  Joras.  Excellent.  Once the Spark rejoined us, we would need every Mahid to seize the Crystal Throne for the rightful Imperator.
We stepped out upon the road as Joras and the Spark climbed the hill.  “Spark of the Sun’s Ray.”
I saw his fine blond brow rise, so much like his Divine Father. “A sufficient escort. Excellent,” he said quietly.  Joras must have heard one of the squad move to raise his dart tube… he stepped in front of the Spark, his tube coming up to his face.
“Spark!  Look out!”  He managed to say before he was darted for his diligence.  I could see the vanes of the dart standing out of the Spark’s cheek.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

370 - The Women Talk About Difficult Things

Kyriala fanned herself thoughtfully and smiled up at a tiny bright, bright blue bird hovering before a pink flower three times as big as it was.  The Most Splendid and Regal Wings Aviary reached all the way to the glass dome above, full of flowering trees and vines of all sorts, looking like a forest lifted from the tropical islands. Laisa stood over by a triangular glass wall that let one walk three-quarters of the way around a tree trunk without letting any of the birds out into soaring halls of the Palace.
Socks snored inside Ky’s left sleeve pocket.  She could feel his feet twitching as dream rabbits fled him.
Atzana and Riala came down the grand marble staircase from the Conservancy, with Skala and Laisa. “Hello, Ky, Laisa, I’m so glad you could come.”
“Nice of you to host our gathering, Atzana!” Kyriala said, rising.  “Mama and Grandmother did not come… nor any of the aunties.  They didn’t want to ‘muck about’ with dirty old books!
Atzana laughed. “Of course.  The Fenjitza is already in the Chime room with kaf and cakes and we’ll be able to go up to work on our projects afterwards…”
“So we shall be telling the absolute truth to our relatives when they ask what we did today,” Laisa smiled behind her own rose patterned fan.
“Mama really does like the Fenjitza,” Kyriala said to Atzana.  “She just finds it hard to forget what being a ‘Masker’ used to mean.”
They walked up the stairs together, holding their sweeping skirts off the stone.  “Don’t you girls hate those skirts?  You can’t hold anything but the skirts themselves!”
“I couldn’t wear a boy’s kilt,” Skala said.  “I mean… Riala… I know you lost your second cousin because of her skirts but…”
Riala stopped and glared at them all.  “She had a candle and her little boy in her hands.  On the stairs.  No servants to carry lights any longer, no money for something as safe as a kraumak any more… so?  She trips and falls down the stairs, and they both die because her kaina skirts are too long?”  None of the women gasped at her language, used to it.  “I’ve got some ideas for new gowns that are perfectly respectable,” she continued.  “Just not likely to kill my friends and family!”
Kyriala nodded firmly as they stepped out onto the Etzentz landing and turned into the salon chamber.  “I’d like to see your ideas Ria… If we wear safer clothing then our mama’s and aunties will squawk but other girls will follow our fashion.”
The Fenjitza put her cup down and rose as they all came in.  “Serinas…”  Below the false filigree edge of her mask, her lips smiled at them all.  “Did I hear you speaking of how dangerous women’s fashion is?”
“Yes, Fenjitza,” Atzana, as hostess, took the lead.  “May I re-fill your cup?”
“Certainly, thank you.  Serina Riala, you have some radical ideas?”
“Yes I do.  I don’t have anything left to lose so why not?  And Ky just offered to see my designs.”
“Wonderful.  I should like to see less dangerous clothing on my dekinaesses and priestesses.  We often have to carry vessels and tools before the Ten and have no hands free to lift trailing hems.” The young women settled down around the low table, the trailing hems and sleeves in question spreading out around them like butterflies wings as if they settled upon one of the flowering trees down in the Aviary.
Riala blinked.  “I never thought of that.  Of course!”
“May we then discuss changing the costumes of our Temple dekinaesses, then?” The silver mask never moved, of course but her eyes were lively as her lips.  “My Temple office tomorrow afternoon?”
“Oh! Yes, Fenjitza!”    
Atzana settled the last cup in front of herself and everyone leaned forward to dress their cups with sugar and beaten cream and spices.
“Serinas… you’ve asked me here to answer some serious questions about women’s spirituality, as I understand it,” the Fenjitza said. “You all know my name is Narilla, please feel free to use it.  Shall we ‘let our hair down?’”
Laisa laughed.  “Please let us be informal!” She said.  “It isn’t as if we have to be careful of the boys' tender sensibilities!”  The rest of them laughed and Narilla smiled. 

Kyriala slipped a tiny piece of cake to Socks, in her sleeve before she looked up and said, "Narilla. We were talking at my last salon about the new purification laws… and I’ve been taught all my life that Muunas’s Book commanded it.”  The Fenjitzas’s eyes were on her attentive and quiet.  “But now that I may read this myself I have read through the Highest Gods’ Books backwards and forwards and I cannot find the God’s command requiring it.”
The expressive lips under the mask twitched before pursing in anger, the upper lip showing an odd pull and discolouration on one side.  “You are correct.”  She set her cup down and folded her hands together in her lap, absolutely still as if to control her emotions.  “There is no command in the Holy Book requiring purification to save Arkan women from Hayel.”
“But… it was taught me… from Muunas’s Commands to the Handmaidens,” Skala said.
“Me, also,” Laisa said.
“The verse in question…” Narilla took a deep breath.  “It says – ‘Men and women be clean in thy bodies.  Be clean in thy souls.  Be clean in one another’s eyes to ensure thy place in My Celestial realms.’” She took a deep breath.  “Verse 10… and this is the one most often mis-represented… ‘If thy flesh offend thee, pray to the labiraritrey’ … the word in the God’s tongue that no mortal remembers… ‘pray to the labiraritrey and to the chiurgeon’s small knife for correction…Be pure. Be smooth and white and gold with clear eyes the colour of sky to show thee as one of the chosen, as untouched by filth of the lesser races.”
She took up her cup again and stirred with her china spoon.  “The thing is… that these commands are not truly addressed to mortals, but to the other Gods, specifically Risae… in her guise as the Merciful One.  She who made us pure, in the beginning.  It was only the interpretation of a Son of the Sun in the Past Age made into law and tradition.”
“So the current law… that says a woman may chose purification at her third threshold but it may not be done by anyone before that day… is in keeping with the Holy Books?”  Laisa tapped her teeth with her closed fan.
“The Gods never commanded the ‘Chimes of Noon’.  It is the will of men.”
Riala looked sick.  “But our daughters will be saved from this… this… travesty.” Kyriala was nodding in support. “—“And they will not be condemned to Hayel, without that pain.”
Riala looked down.  In privacy, Skala and Atzana both laid hands on their friend’s shoulders.  “…after… my injury… the Haian fixed the damage...” she put her hands over her face.  “the… the… tearing that happened from the warriors… she fixed… and she said… she… did what she could to ‘help’ what the priest had done.  When I was a little girl,” she whispered.
Skala looked sick and turned away herself.  “Yes…”
Kyriala got up and wrapped her arms around the two from one side and Laisa and Atzana joined her and for a long moment they clung.  Narilla... the Fenjitza herself… joined them.  “The Goddesses do not wish us pain,” she said quietly. “The Gods are angered by it.  To heal… to be opened or eased by a Haian rather than a bridegroom with a wedding knife is not only acceptable but wished by the Ten.”
“Mmmmoon times,” Riala continued, straightening but not pulling away from the clutch of hug.  She stared into Naerilla’s eyes.  “Moon times don’t need to be the torture that they are, for some.”  The Fenjitza’s eyes blinked closed for a moment.
“Yes,” she said.  “And elimination need not be hard or painful or time consuming.  Apparently it should happen as easily as pouring water out of a jug.”  Riala straightened more and they slowly let go to go back to their own chairs.  “We do not need to risk our lives so much when we give birth, and we do not need to expect to lose our first child to ‘open the way’.”  Narilla’s voice was firm.  “Even the mild form of purification may be eased, without fear of eternal smothering.”
I cannot imagine a wedding knife in Minis’s hand. Kyriala thought.  He’d probably hurl the nasty thing straight into the garderobe.  Hard enough to break the steel on the stone.
Kyriala pulled a handkerchief out of one glove and dabbed at her eyes.  So many women injured and dead from their purification being torn open by rapists during the sack... as Riala and Skala shared.  “We need to have more women’s only salon gatherings,” she and Atzana said, at the same time.  They smiled at each other, shakily.  “Have a Haian in to talk about such things…”
Riala smiled.  “Ky… you thought your salons were notorious before… people will be chattering like magpies over these kind.”
Ky set her handkerchief upon the table, Socks stirring in her sleeve to whimper up onto her lap to lick her cheeks.  “Shh… shush dogling.  Enough.”  She set the little dog down on the floor.
Skala let out a little shriek, pointing at a shelf by the door.  “What in the Great Goddess’s name is THAT!!!”  Socks… sniffing… began barking and howling and jumping up at the white and gold coloured creature now hanging down and waving its tentacles at the little dog.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

369 - That Pile of Evil Dog Poops

“Kaita cannot come to look after you, Ilesias.  She is still working for the Etzen.  And your schooling… you will not be able to walk down every day, to Grass Alley, unfortunately.”  Gannara was signing chalk.  He’d been at the house when I got home and he and Ailadas were sitting in the front room.  There was a solas in armour waiting by the door.  And he -- Ailadas-- had just told me I was going back to the Marble Palace with Uncle Gan.
“That STINKS!” I shouted.
Ailadas pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes.  “I know, Ilesias.  For now, your class will be allowed to come up to you… Gian has agreed that he could teach everyone here, just as well as in the Grass Alley school, in fact it will be an opportunity for everyone to study the palace itself.  Gannara will be here to help you and when I am not teaching I will be spending a lot of time there with you boys.”
I stood in the front room with Jiaklem on my shoulder, one hand knotted in a ball of tentacles.   My face felt like it was one big pout.  I knew I shouldn’t yell.  I yelled anyway.  “IT’S NOT FAIR! I’M TIRED OF THIS!”  It wasn’t that bad, I just felt horrible. Jia tried to scramble down my back, letting go my hand and my head and I caught him just as he dropped.  “Shh… it’s all right, Jiaklem… I’m sorry… I’m sorry I yelled.  It’s all right, I’m just mad.”
He turned orange and then a weird green but quit trying to ooze down between my arm and my chest.  Minis had gone and turned himself in and I was tired of being a good boy.  I was tired of having stuff changed on me for no reason.  I pulled a big breath and held it, my cheeks full, my eyes closed. That way I wouldn’t bug Jia and still let Uncle Gan and Ailadas know how mad I was.  I couldn’t close my ears though.
“Ilesias Koren!”  Ailadas was still using my fake name but he was mad.  “I was not going to mention this to you but your brother has just put himself in tremendous danger and we are doing this to make sure you will be safe!”  All the air blew out of my cheeks and my eyes opened up.
“Min is in danger? Why? He’s safe!  You told me it was all right!  Everything was going to be all right! You said you got notice from Min!  You said!” I didn’t yell because of Jia but I said it really, really hard.  Uncle Gan said “You can stay with me in the Marble Palace Ili… it will be more secure.”
He coughed a bunch of times.  “Ilesias, ahem.”  He had his driest tutor voice on. I stuck my lip out, stubbornly. “I will explain,” he said, but didn’t, right away.  “Once you grab your things and when we are in a more protected place.”  Uncle Gan flipped his hand over to show chalk.
I stared at my toes and Jia put two tentacles up to stick on my cheeks, the way he sometimes pats.  “The Baths… would they be safe for Jia to swim?”
“Ahem… the cleanser for the water… ahem…” Ailadas said.  “Is salt, so I believe it will be safe for your pet.”
Minis is in danger.  And they want me safe. I’ll bet it’s Ice Eyes.  I hate him, I hate him, I hate him and I hope this is about that pile of evil dog poops getting killed. As long as Minis is home safe soon. I picked at a splinter in Ailadas’s floor with my toe for a moment, twisting my foot.
“’n my class will be coming up to the Marble Palace every day?”
“For now, yes.”
Without looking at either of them I nod.  “All right.  I’ll get my stuff.”
“Do you need help, Ili?”  Uncle Gan called that up after my back as I ran up the stairs.
I really wasn’t mad any more. But I wasn’t going to not be mad that easily.  It would be like going home after a long, long time away.  The trunk in my room had my clean clothes in it already.  I stuffed the dirty laundry bag next to the trunk, emptied Jia’s bowl out the back window into the garden and wrapped it up in it’s padded bag. He was on my head again, cheeping. 
I’m really too big for bears and dayanal and I stood looking at my troops on the bed, biting my lip.  Jia plopped from my head to my shoulder and down onto the bed, curling up around my stuffed animals.  I smiled… if they were for Jia to cuddle then I should take them.  “Hey, Jia! Toss!”  I clapped my hands and he coiled two tentacles around Kefas Bear and threw him to me.
I caught him and tucked him and then all the others into my trunk as they got thrown to me. I have to stay safe.  I promised Minis. Mama Selinae…Most High Mother of us all… please be with my brother.  Keep him safe… I prayed as I stuffed a spare undercloth into Jia’s empty tank and packed up my school books and papers.
One thing.  Moving around so much meant I knew how to pack quick.  Minis be safe.  Don’t get killed now.  You disappeared into the Marble Palace and just sent a note telling me to stay that everything would be all right.
If he got killed I was going to be mad.  If he got killed I’d kick his shins and punch him!  I sat down on the bed, with my project about the laefetas power system in my hands.  Who was I fooling?  I really knew what dying was. I saw the Mahid kill enough things… heard the man they made Minis torture to death. I was scared. I needed to finish packing quicker so I could get told what was really happening.
The trunk wouldn’t close all the way at first so I sat on it and clicked the lock. Then I didn’t say anything at all, all the way up to the Marble Palace.  It was busy enough that we kind of blended in, our little parade with my trunk being carried by a porter.
When we got to the Marble Palace and the solas walked us all into the guest halls.  I wanted to go to my old rooms but I couldn’t.  Some other kid was living there now.  A girl was the Coronet Regal because Yeolis figure girls can think.  Meggia would poke me… hard… and call me an Arkan pig if I said stuff like that, even if she got in trouble.  And Sayaporo… who must be safe home in Hyerne with her mama by now… she’d laugh really hard at me and call me a baby to think that.
I sat down on the fountain seat in the sitting room and crossed my arms once the door closed behind the porter and the solas guard.  “All right.  We’re in a more secure place.  Why’s Minis in danger?”
Uncle Gan sat down and said “He and eighty elite went after 2nd Amitzas and the rest of the unsworn.”
“Yeah.” I wanted to cry but wasn’t going to.  I wasn’t a baby any more.  “But he had lots of elite with him.”
“Yes, Ili.”
Oh Gods… Papa Muunas… Mama Selinae… High Gods keep him safe.
“They’ll be back in less than an eight-day, if everything goes according to plan.”
“And I get to live here, after Minis gets back?  With my brother?”
“Yes, of course, Ili.”  If Ice Eyes doesn’t kill Minis. Don’t be silly he has a lot of really really good warriors keeping him safe.
“I need to set up my room.” I said, getting up.  “I’m still not happy.”
Ailadas coughed and answered what I didn’t say.  “I’m sure they’ll come home safe, Ili. He’ll come home in triumph.”
I could see Gan glance at Ailadas before he signed chalk. They’re more worried, too.  I might not be as smart as my brother, but I’m not stupid. “If Muunas wants him to, he’ll come home,” I said, and swung Jia up on my shoulder, not looking at them.  I want a brother hug… but he’s not here, so I get a Jia hug instead and slam my door on their poopy, lying faces.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

368 - Muunas be with Us

I am still Mahid. I looked at the rule-straight cut ends of Minis’s hair across his shoulders as I followed him. I should think of him in honour, I should exalt him, but he said Minis, just Minis like friends, like… family.

He called me family. He said… and had proved to me that we were family. I was his third cousin, through the First’s Wife, who was the Scorched Bastard Son of the Ten’s concubine. He said… he was family, acknowledging 1st Amitzas as his grandfather… which meant that his mother… the woman married to 2nd Amitzas... was his mother.

In the moonlight we walk. I could not hear the others though I knew they were around us, shadowing us. I was amazed that they were so good… as good as Mahid. The other Mahid are going to swear, or die.

I was still ringing from finding out that I was not the only one turned by the astonishing Ascension ritual. I scanned to see if I could spot the contacts who would intercept us. 2nd Amitzas might send one contact with one back, but I did not think it was likely.

It would be my duty to protect Minis. He was using himself… had offered himself to draw them out of their hidey hole. I did not understand why he would do that, not just let them die of their own venom. I had not expected anyone to explain, but the Spark… Minis… had sat down with me and explained to me that the threat was too much for the Empire and that we could not rely upon 2nd Amitzas being less cunning, was the term he used, being kind to our unsworn relative.

He spoke to me in the the fessas manner and it made things easier to hear, to comprehend. Ideas that would have fallen straight of my Mahid ears and thoughts, clung and let me think about them. That was one reason I had actually thought of my wife.

2nd Amitzas had married me to her the last time I was with the group and I was required to attempt a child upon her. To begin creating a larger power base for the attempt to overthrow the barbarian Crystal Throne, surely. I doubt he wished to tie me more to the family with wife and son, since my attachment to her was minimal. We did our duty, very efficiently, and more easily than I thought. She was very competent for a woman. I did not quite understand why I requested Minis to command her to not die.

Perhaps it was because the Empire needed more sworn Mahid, more correct Mahid. That made a certain amount of sense. Muunas be with us. The unsworn were like vipers hidden in the grass. Let us be efficient as we walk out like good day-old chicks, to bait the snakes out.

I had the fantasy that the moonlight was cool and the shadows warm as we left the deep ditches behind and climbed the hill. I was aware that the lake was somewhere off in the dark, though there was no wind and no sound from the water at all. Ahead, the trees shaded the road into darkness. I heard the tree frog trill that must be commander Kaneka, that meant ‘slow down.’

I did not know if he had spotted something, or heard something. I pulled my tube out and hissed a warning at Minis just as two of the unsworn stepped out of the darkness in the road. “Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” 2nd Iakobas said to Minis.

“2nd Iakobas and 3rd Amitzas,” the Spark said calmly. “A good escort.”

“We honour the Spark—“he began as, in the darkness, I heard a click I knew… a dart sliding into a tube.

“—Spark! Look out!” I stepped in front of him bringing up my own tube, heard the hiss and snap of firing and a dart flowered in my shoulder.

Monday, October 25, 2010

367 - Acid, Metal and Rust

If someone had said, even a few moons ago, that having Joras Mahid at my back would make me less nervous, I would have laughed in his face.  He was exactly as he should be, on my left and back out of the way should I draw the Imperial sword.  I had to have it.  In the satchel slung over my shoulder was another book, wrapped in Temple silver… they would see the silver and not dare open it – if I were stunned and searched.  If it all fell in the fire.  Which it probably would.  I had to expect that our plan was going to fall straight to Hayel, but until it did, I would act as if it would not.  ‘Plans… even good ones… rarely survive contact with the enemy.’
Joras had kept up his regular reports to 2nd Amitzas, pretending the faithful hound.  Having him at my back made it less likely the unsworn would just stun-dart me and cart me in to lay at 2nd Amitzas’s feet, like a duck faithfully retrieved.
Kaneka and the others were spread out in the dark, careful of the sneakers they knew would be in the bushes.  I didn’t know where they were.  Frogs groaned and trilled in the grass and trees along the road.  The ditches were full of water and tall reeds and I could smell water everywhere. Behind them cypress loomed black against a gray sky, the road white as salt under the bright moon.
Some of the trilling frogs were not green, I knew, and wore dark-worker armour.  I was in the middle of the road, obvious as if I had a city lantern floating over my head and a big fat target painted upon my torso.
It was a warm night and I strolled as though wandering down the Avenue in the shadow of Lion’s Bridge… it would be up to the Mahid to make contact with me.  I was tense as a bow-string on an over-strung bow, and trying not to show it.  When we’d been a malas or two back and about to proceed on our own, Joras… in his fessas guise had caught my elbow and dared to say – equal to equal as if I was Minakas.  ‘If ‘t hits te fire, kid, go straight inna ditch, mind.  Yeh won’ drown in an inch or even waist-deep muck an’ leave the rabid tah us.”  Of course he was repeating Kaneka’s instructions in his fessas accent.
I’d grinned and answered him the same way. “Heh, yeh kaina, ye’ll keep m’ glass from meltin’!”  He’d looked startled and then grinned at me.  “Ser… Minis… Exalted…”  The fessas crumbled away from his stone face underneath.  “May this one request?”
“May you request something of me?  Yes, Joras.”  It was a faint whisper in the moonlight.
“Would the exalted one… once he succeeds in reaching the women, to order them to surrender…”  He was assuming a great deal.  I waited.  “I… give the exalted another name to command… Elsha… my wife.”  I had assumed he was not married.  He had not been married when I left… so 2nd Amitzas must have done it.  “Tell her… as her husband I wish her to obey… and not die.”  I stared at him, in the dark.  He actually cared?  I had never seen a sign that he even had a wife, much less cared whether she lived or died.  Elsha… I vaguely remembered her, one of the matched set of women perfectly gowned, perfect hair.  “Thank you, Joras for the information.”  And Kaneka had whistled and sent us out onto the road and begun walking.  I will try, I'd whispered.
It was funny.  I was using techniques that 2nd Amitzas had taught me in his knuckle-knee’n-switch school of bruises, to hide the fact I was leading the Empire to find him.  My gut might be screeching and clawing my spine and lungs and heart but I could walk as though I was going to The Golden Thigh for a glass of wine and a boy, my escort ghosting behind me.
Aside from keeping my guts down and not vomiting from tension, waiting for the Mahid watchers wherever they were… to be reassured we were not followed, it was pretty boring.  The road was not perfectly straight.  We had just climbed a hill and turned a fairly sharp corner, the ditches had sunk to almost nothing and the overhanging canopy of trees made it very dark over the road just ahead.
Frogs trilling had given away to crickets and night birds.  Joras heard something or spotted something and hissed lightly to warn me.  I stopped on the road and waited in a patch of moonlight.  With one hand on my sword, I was certain I cut a martial enough figure.  

I had considered wearing a coat of chain under my shirt but that would not stop a dart and would slow me down.  All that was between me and the night was a heavy silk shirt.  Chevenga had given me one of his.  The feeling of the silk was supportive and I drew a deep breath.  Joras had his tube out, scanning.
A rabbit screech in the underbrush as something caught and killed it… probably one of the Yeolis.  Soundlessly as spirits, as if black fog drifted up from the road and solidified two Mahid stood in front of me just on the edge of the shadow.  I could just see their faces, white against the darkness and recognized them as 2nd Iakobas and 3rd Amitzas.  

“Spark of the Sun’s Ray,” Iakobas said quietly.  I nodded, stopped myself from making the Yeol chalk sign, just in time, my heart hammering – if anything – louder in my ears.
“2nd Iakobas.” I said.  I was startled to hear how much my voice sounded like my father’s in my ears.  “3rd Amitzas as well.  A good escort.”
“We honour the Spark, of course,” Iakobas said, just as Joras made to step around me, to shield me, and I dodged back, the huff of a dart-tube out of the dark.  The acrid sting of a dart in and through my cheek, into my tongue, even as I flung my head… too late… in a futile attempt to avoid.  My mouth flooded with the taste of acid, metal and rust.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

366 - A Long Time to Think

“So when you left them there were how many Mahid exactly, Minis?” Kallijas asked me. Chevenga smiled as if Kallijas had spoken his thought.
“There were forty two men in the company when we parted company.  The women... there were eleven then, but if the camp is captured, they are supposed to kill themselves and any children they've had.”
“So there could be fewer than forty, but not more.  Minis, how good warriors are they?”
“Ten of them were elite... the highest quality warriors the Mahid had.”  Kaneka was scribbling fast notes.  “The others varied from excellent down to eight trainees.”
“And how are they equipped?” That was Niku asking.  Even if her major concern was getting us all to the meeting point, she was still a warrior and commander.
“Straight swords. every one of them.  Classic Arkan style.  Mahid kits the same, which means blow-guns.  No real archers or slingers... they aren't usual Mahid weapons... though some learned to use a bow for hunting so that may have changed. Oh everyone will have throwing stars and hand-darts.”
“How about armour?” Kallijas asked.
“The elite will have their full infantry armour.  They were mostly city so weren’t primarily cavalry, but enough to teach me.  And they have their war horses... killers mostly.  The rest are riding horses for the women.  Everyone else will have the onxyine chain.”
That had been the first planning session on this raid.  Of course I was running over it in my mind.  We had been in the air long enough that my wild exhilaration at being so deftly put so high into the air and asking Ronam, my pilot if I might feel the chamir.  
We were high soaring and I had a lot of time to think.  I recalled when Chevenga had pulled out a big piece of paper and pens from his desk drawer. “Here, Minis.  They set up camp the same way all the time right?  Can you draw it?”
“Yes, depending on the lay of the land,”I said.  “Of course I can draw it in principle. It depends on the water-source, they are camped next to.”
“Right, if they have a lake they use it as a defense,” Chevenga nodded his encouragement.  
I began sketching a rough blue-ink shoreline. “They tend to use lakes and rivers as a bulwark or fortification since they don't swim,” I said.
Niku leaned over to look down at the map I was scribbling.  “So we can expect they'll be on a shore of some sort? That will cut down our search area if we can find the camp without risking you on the road.”
“Yes. They always find a spot like that.”  The ink flowed from my pen tip, delineating the tents where my mother would be.  “They back on the lake, so the women's tents are on the left.  The elite on the right.  The others in a defensive line in front before.”  A jagged line.  “The horse picket would be here if there is air cover.”
“How do they set up sentries?”
Of course this was what I was thinking of.  I adjusted the goggles, scratching under the strap holding them tight to my head.  aNiah wear them for long distance, tinted to ease the sun glare, and to protect the eyes from wind and insects.
I wanted to talk all of this over with Kaneka again, once we landed.  What had we forgotten?  What had changed?  Had 2nd Amitzas gotten smarter?  Had I underestimated him all along?  Was this just a trap for him to eliminate me rather than for me to remove him?
“If there is a road within a tenth march of the camp there will be scouts here, here and here.  And then the perimeter is here.”  
“The scouts have apprentices or juniors with them... as witness/runners with orders to report.  That's typical Mahid practice.”
“They have a specific formula for how far off a main road a camp should be.”
We called Joras in to update all my information as best he could.  He would be invaluable for making 2nd Amitzas think I was truly returning, if I returned with Joras at my side.
He was four wings down off our left wingtip, being flown by a Niah by the name of Shashi... a woman.  He hadn’t made a sound but I would have to speak to him when we settled, and the aNiah went to see if they could find the Mahid camp from the air, without risking either of us.
Niku had asked, during a planing session.  “Do they set up camp not to be seen from the air? Avoid burning during the day?  That sort of thing?”
“All of that. Everything is set up in the shadows of trees.  They'd prefer a clearing but that was before moyawel.  And only one fire at night. That fire is dug into a fire pit so the light is not visible from the ground. A fire pit that they can instantly fill in.  They tend to angle a canvas above it, far enough to not smoke or burn, but to shield it from the sky.”
“So, they're very careful,” she said.  “More of a challenge.”
“One reason we haven't caught them yet,” Perisalas said.  He had been there for that session.  An amazing mind.
So we were in the air with ninety mixed Arkans and Yeolis... all elite... all good dark workers.  And I had too much time to think of all the things that might go wrong...  I am so glad you are safe out of this one, Chevenga.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

365 - With Armoured Heart and Killing Needle

 Author's Warning!  Graphic Grotesquerie and soul violence!

I am dreaming.  I am remembering.  My Mother and my Senior, made me strip down to bare skin and examined me carefully.  No flaws would be allowed in the Imperator’s presence.  Not a rash, not a spot, not so much as an in-grown hair.  Mother wielded the razor, mercifully, efficiently, -- one would not want a blade burn or mark either -- with copious soap, to make me smooth and perfect as a marble statue from the neck down.
The Imperator picked me, out of the parade of possibles. I had been presented ever since my second Threshold two years ago and my Senior was considering I might be too old for His Gracious Presence.  I still looked younger, my breasts barely budded and small.  I was allowed to train hard to make my shape more boyish.
We were presented in the Hall of Light with its enormous, heavy, spinning panels that slid in their tracks across the floor, flickering and scattering light from every representation of water on their surfaces, every mirror chip lake or blinding sea.  The maps and scenes all around me I would have loved to see if I’d not been concentrating hard not to be hit by the moving walls as we danced before the Imperator. I’d never been allowed in here before.
The dress... when He chose me... a webwork of gold chains, thick enough to be called a dress, that gaped open here and there as I moved.  I and 15th Trina had been dancing before Him our hands scandalously touching as we circled around each other and around the Hall, the screens whirling perilously close as we moved.  One even grazed my heel... 22nd Matthas, had misjudged the speed of the moving panels and been hit.  He’d been carried out, gracefully, calmly, as if it were part of our parade, holding his lips closed against the mouthful of blood.  Though the Imperator might have liked it, had he showed that he bled. 

Rest he in Selestialis.
Gold is pain.  Pain that radiates like sharp spikes all the way down to my heels. The look on His face as He takes up the wedding knife is very Mahid. I bleed enough to thrill Him, not enough to die.  I have a pad of bloodstop hidden under my hair, at the nape of my neck.  Mother gave it to me just as I went into the Imperial Chamber. She is Mahid but I should preserve my life if I can.  Unless the Imperator wants it. We are stripped before the Imperial Chamber, washed four times, anointed with oil and prayed over by the Fenjitzas, who examines all of us minutely before he allows us into the Imperial Presence. He dares to be stirred in his passion, doing his duty. He is close enough to my skin that I can smell his excitement.
I am one of three that night and the Imperial body writhes in Its harness as we service It.  It is easier to be dispassionate about this a Holy service if one does not think of it as anything but an exercise in passion.  Three satellites moving around our Sun, suspended over the bed. 20th Boras is at His head, 5th Haras is in the straps under Him him, his body pressed tight to let the Imperial back feel him writhe, tongue working between the exalted buttocks. My toes are in the foot straps and I am impaled upon our Sun, rivulets of my blood trickling thin down his hips and flanks, curling round over his wobbling bulk. He reaches down and dabbles His fingers in it as I move up and down, smoothly as I can.  I am on fire. He smears my blood upon His lips and 20th Boras kisses the Imperial nipples and that thrusts Him into ecstasy bucking up against me and down against Haras.
He orders me off Him then and I am able to retreat to clean myself, use the bloodstop before returning, the pad thrust neatly into myself to not be visible. I am on fire and the pain is enough to make my breathing fast and shallow. I force myself to move smoothly, to breathe deep enough to not faint. That would be ungraceful, disrespectful to the Son of the Sun.
His Gracious Plenty is prodigious in his appetites, and all three of us are worn out before we are allowed to lower the pale, snoring, farting body to the bed and unharness it, our hands slick with the sweat old and new, of the Son of the Divine. We had licked him clean and He graciously allowed us to re-anoint him with his favourite scent. The taste and smell of Divine excrement and the oil of flowers of sun upon my tongue and lips had me setting my teeth to keep from showing anything but pleasure, joy and honour.
All the passionate emotions are easy to show, they are so close to pain. I am honoured beyond honour to serve in the Divine bed, transforming the daily-changed pristine gold sheets into a sodden, stinking morass every night for three eight-days. Although the Divine Son of the Sun did not use us directly every night, some nights He wished to see us... His chosen... doing what He wished, for Him to watch.
Twice, on the rolling, heaving, wallowing bed... the uncanny bed that moved so much like the Imperator Himself... He summoned my father to administer things to me... and watch the effect.  Once it is a drug that makes me mad with desire, overwhelming all my training and control.  Once it is Women’s Obedience.

It is unusual for Him to keep me so long.  The Son of the Ten usually chooses boys and prefers to spend his seed in them, rather than in the bloody passage of a female.
The Divine Son has a box of precious glass toys that he uses upon me when he is satiated and unable to rise.  He raises each image of a man’s organ and gazes through its clear, clean glass before he places it inside my body.  Some were normal size and shape.  Some were of animals’ organs. Some were shaped like hands, and fists. Sometimes one. Sometimes two. Sometimes I am required to accept three at one time.  All are perfectly clear glass. All are hard.  All are cold.
After He choses a new set of concubines, I am carefully sequestered.  My father stitches my injuries, using his most perfect hand so that I not be scarred and I am wrapped in silk and sent into bed, should I be Divinely blessed.
That blessing made the agony, the disgust, bearable. I am almost awake. Why am I dreaming of this? Why am I remembering this?  I remember I felt no different at first; not for more than two moons after I conceived. Then I begin to feel the Blessing.  I remember the feeling of being filled with life.
I remember my body changing, growing with a possible Divine Child.  I am kept as carefully as a glass statue. I dream of Selinae holding me, rocking me in Her hair. I am the Vessel, the Cup. I am given only blue around me to see, only male servants, only male animals around me, given food that is considered ‘male’.  Even though it is mere superstition and the thing decided by the seed of the Divine Sun, it is still our tradition.  The only female thing allowed around me while I nurture the Spark is my mother.  My father monitors my progress, how well I do and even allows me into an outside garden for gentle exercise. I am carrying a possible Coronet Regal.  The Spark of the Sun's Ray, 17th Kurkas, was 8th Anina Mahid's child, but I might have the second son.
The morning nausea becomes a familiar friend.
In the dark of the night, in the moonlight, my limbs are desperate, aching to move, waking me.  So, in my bedroom, I dance and sing to the Spark, the little butterfly growing in me. It tickles me inside and if it is female I imagine a butterfly with black wings... another Mahid.  Or if it is a boy... a butterfly with gold wings.
It is madness.  The madness of pregnancy I tell myself.  I am incorrect to do such things.  If it were male and chosen, I would not be allowed to touch him again, an eight-day after his birth... He could be accepted by the Imperator as His son. I was a ferment of life, bubbling up and full of strange emotions, strange sensations.  No wonder the breeding are hidden away.  They are improper in all ways.
I weep, incorrectly, in the dark, thinking this baby will be my son for only one eight-day.  I cradle my belly and hum and sing to him.  I... realize this incorrectness must be what love is.  I recite every poem I had ever heard to him, dreaming in my belly. I dream that it is a girl and just another black butterfly. I wake and say ‘That is just my fear,” out loud.
I learn that the Goddess is still there even when her eye is closed, the Dark Lady, the one who cares for all Darknesses... all Mahid... all blood and pain and fear. Lady Shadows who binds up and cares for  hearts safe inside the darkness of a human chest.  These thoughts are all breeding insanities.
The birth is three days.  I begin labour before Jitzmitthra and since the Midwife does not think he will be born before the days that do not exist, I take to my bed and hope he will be born on the most prestigious of days afterwards...Muunas the First.  

I try and stop or slow my birth-working enough but my body disobeys me. The Masker cuts me open wide so the baby may be born without smashing his way through my scars.  It takes all my strength not to weep when he is pulled free of my treacherous body on Diem Wards Back. Feet first. Mikas must laugh.
The baby is barely free of my body when the Divine Son throws the doors open and comes to view him.  “Yes."He says, his voice booming in the birthing room, loud, echoing.  "“I recognize this child as mine!  Rejoice, All Arko! The Sun has thrown off a new Spark! His name shall be Minis Kurkas Joras Amitzas Aan!  He is Coronet Regal before all Arko!”  As proper He anoints the baby with a drop of his seed, drawn from a glass plate, over his forehead, to cleanse Him of me.  The Divine Sun draws His fingers back and suckles them clean of my blood and his own semen. 

Minis screams himself pink and the Midwife lays him to my aching breasts and he takes my nipple as eagerly as if he knows me, as if hungry for life and as he does, my womb clenches.  The Spark of the Sun's Ray stands behind his Divine Father, his face sullen, his eyes angry.
I have an insane urge, to attack the Divine Sun, to rend his features with my hands, my nails.  This is incorrect. I choke it back. My son... His son... is safe.
I nurse him for the required eight days.  I am not to look him in the eyes while I do, either looking at statues and art works, or keep them closed, but again, deep in the night when he wakes and nurses, I am able to lie upon my side and we secretly stare into each other’s eyes in the dim light of the Nursery.  I know my son through his eyes.
The Divine Sun takes him and gives him to his first wet nurse and decides that He, Himself, will Honour me once more by accepting my milk into His Gracious, wet, large, mouth.  I am required to be naked and serve His Divinity at His call, for the summer.  I may, in the secrecy of my dark heart, as I look over the Divine Head, at the wet-nurse feeding the Cornet Regal, pretend that it is his little lips upon my breast.  It eases the ache under my breastbone, that should not be there.
And then 2nd Amitzas pleases the Most High, and He graciously gives me, to him, to wife and I am not allowed to even imagine that I had carried the Coronet.  Minis must be as though a stranger to me. But I watch him, in silence, in solitude, in duty his whole life, leaving him untainted with my femaleness, with my incorrectness. With an armoured heart, I watch you, my son. With an armoured heart and a killing needle in one glove.
Inensa opened her eyes to the dark of the night, to the even, smooth breathing of her husband lying next to her.  Am I awake all the way?  Yes.
She slid her feet out of the bedroll and gathered her sleeping braid up and coiled it around her wrist so it not drag.  2nd Amitzas’s eyes snapped open though no other part of him moved, and she whispered, “garderobe”. His eyes closed again.
The camp outside Jintila, was on the edge of the lake around the shoreline, hidden from the air and from the town. A cool wind blew off the water and Inensa looked at the cliff across the water that was so much like the walls of the city.  I am thinking... remembering these things because Minis will be joining us again.
I... believe this is an incorrect action, Spark. You are away.  You are free.  You should not come back into this black trap, this nest of agony and the remnant rot of the failed Divine Son of the Sun. A distantly remembered nausea shook her and she stepped over to the concealed slit-trench.
She wiped her mouth and walked out to the shore enough to put her bare feet in the cold water as if to clear her thinking.  She pulled up her belt in her cold fingers and looked at the march of white glass beads upon the end.  

A woman always had a belt of white and red beads, worn under her clothing.  It was one of her second threshold gifts.  Every day without blood she would move a white bead from one end, to the other.  When she bled she pulled a red bead forward instead until the blood was finished for that moon.  Then she re-set her belt for the next moon.
Her fingers counted off white beads.  Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty... thirty-five... forty-five... fifty-nine...  “I have been most incorrect,” she said to herself.  “No wonder I am remembering my last pregnancy.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

364 - Planning

I slept right through the night and Gannara coming in late. When the servant woke me up for training next morning I was sore everywhere and felt light in every limb as if filled with gas rather than flesh, as if my heart were turned inside out, scrubbed clean and turned right side again.  I stretched and crawled up to train with Kallijas, not sure if all this good fortune wasn’t going to kill me.
He smiled at me and set me to light stretching.  “Two days intense work in a row can actually cause damage.  Not to worry, Min.”
“Thank you, Teacher.”
“No need.  When you’re stretched do some running... then Sheng will done and you have some planning to do before you head off.”
Chevenga had come in one night before I had placed the advertisement in the Pages and we had thrashed out the first part of the raid.  This morning was the last planning session I could have with him present. Then I would have to go with the elite to try and kill or capture 2nd Amitzas’s Mahid.  Then Kallijas and I would have less than sixty days to win our election at the end of the 52nd last Year of the Present Age of Arko.  No problem. I swallowed and swallowed again, unable to get the sudden clot out of my throat
“Outer Jintila fessas couple seeking smooth-skinned boy for threesome, bottom preferred,” had gone out in the Pages and I needed to be on the south road of Jintila in two days.  By wing it could be done.  

From my stretching I could watch Kallijas and Chevenga sparring with each other.  Everyone was too well trained to stop and watch, focussed on their own work but anyone taking a water break watched.  The leader of exercise did have to call some of the pairs to order to pay attention to their own exercise.
The two of them were like light and shadow, the dark hair and the blond and perfect reflections of each other in skill.  I could feel the edges of their connection... just from the taste of it I had had yesterday with Kallijas.  His wife, Niku was there, fighting in the strange, ‘flying’ style the aNiah used and I found I couldn’t watch her move without reacting in a way I didn't want to.  The Imperatrix sparred topless.
I put my head down on my knees, looking down.  The meeting wasn’t to be long either.  Chevenga only had a short time before he had to be in the Highest Office for his first meeting and the raiding party had to leave this morning.
There was a cascade booth just at the stairs, for those training to rinse off quickly before heading down into the Marble Palace and I was just as glad there were walls between the cascade heads.  I couldn’t bear looking at Chevenga with no clothes on.  I had to resist wrapping my loins up tight again.  Surya had sent a note along with me yesterday, telling me to continue leaving the wrapping off. I'd found it on the dressing table this morning.
“How was your session with Surya?” Chevenga asked.
“Um. Good.” He laughed at the expression on my face.
“Knocked the shen out of you?” His grin was wry.
“Oh, yeha,” I said fervently and found myself trading a look of perfect understanding with him.  “Surya... I can see why he’s the Imperial healer.  I’m glad you’ve got him.” If he could not be on Haiu Menshir to finish healing from what my father had done to him, and did to him, then it was perfect that he had the best.
“Yes.  I am glad I've got him too.  We are both very fortunate.”
We went into the Blue Filigree room where Kaneka – who was the best Yeoli raid commander that Chevenga had—waited for us.  Kaneka was a Yeoli I couldn’t really read.  His face gave me no idea what he thought, except for the idea of killing the last of the Mahid.  I could understand his enthusiasm there.  He had light brown curls and his eyes were a light brown as well.  They had an intense stare and in some lights could be said to be almost gold. When he smiled he had a dimple in his chin that I noticed, not that he smiled much at me.
We sat down and Niku came in just then and we bent over a map of Jintila.  It was on a wide point on a little river by the name of Jabokkas. The town was on the south side of the pseudo-lake and there was only one south road.  It was why I had specified ‘bottom preferred’.
“We won’t know where their camp is,” I said.
“Or if they brought everyone,” Kaneka answered me.
“It’s 2nd Amitzas.  He’ll have everyone close,” I said.  “He might have let one out of his grip... the okas-trained Mahid... but he’ll want to have everyone he can clutched hard in his glove.”
Chevenga signed chalk, listening, he glanced out the window where it was still dark, barely silvering Rim dawn.  “The group will be a mix of Yeolis and Arkans,” he said. “Best dark-workers. Kaneka, you’ll be my second.”
Everyone stared at him as if we’d all died.  “Your second?” Kaneka said weakly. “Your second...?”
“Chevenga! You cannot, even if you are the best dark-worker!” Niku snapped.
“You want someone with weapon-sense there, don’t you?” he asked us. “Twenty-odd Mahid won’t be easy.”
“You’re... you’re you, Imperator... He Whose...,” I managed to say, I felt the blood drain out of my face at the thought of him hit with a poison dart.  Even weapon-sense could not avoid all of twenty darts, repeated firing, cross-fire out of the underbrush. “You’re far too valuable to risk on something like this.”
“I’d say that’s for me to decide,” he said. “We’d better come up with a plan that ensures a minimal risk, at any rate.” Oh Ten. Oh Ten. He needed me to do this.  And do it perfectly.
“It’s not even something critical, it’s just mopping up twenty Mahid,” Niku said. “You should leave it to people whose death wouldn’t be a national disaster for two countries.”
“It just needs a failsafe plan,” he said. “Niku, Minis, don’t worry. We’ll run over it a hundred times every way.”
I glanced at Kaneka who was looking at Niku who was staring at Chevenga, who looked back at her.  He could stand on rank as he always did and that would be it. Sing-song done, Flood Gates Open and all Run Home.
Niku put her finger over her lips, still looking at her husband. “Pehali, why do you want to do this?”
He said nothing and frowned. “To settle old scores?” I chimed in. He said a lot more nothing.
Niku sighed and said something I just didn’t understand. “Last chance.” I looked between her and him and then over at Kaneka and he didn’t know what they were talking about either.  Chevenga ran one hand through his hair, looking down at the blue marble floor. 
What’s going on here? He looks like a child with one hand caught in the sweet cupboard. I wasn’t sure what was going on here but perhaps it was because I’d just had such a shaking up by the man and perhaps because he’d just asked me about it... I opened my mouth and asked “I wonder... what would Surya say about this?”
His eyes snapped up to mine and locked on as if I’d become a target.  A target or a way out.  I had no idea what I’d said but it seemed to be the right thing.  Thank you Mikas for giving me the right words.  He jumped up.  “I need to go speak to him. I’ll abide by his judgment. You three do some more planning, I’ll be back.” 
The door clicked as he all but ran out and Kaneka said quietly... “Maybe this healer should be inside the Marble Palace security?”  Niku and I both nodded and then we bent over the map once more to do what we could before he got back.  We planned as if Kaneka were leading, hoping.
Chevenga came back three tenths later, shaken up. “I’m not going.  You’re in charge, Kaneka.”
A-e kras, he said, signing chalk.

Reader Challenge

Minis and the Arkan Elite and Darya semanakraseye are about to try and round up the last of the loose Mahid, including 2nd Amitas and Inensa.

So... here's the deal...

How many ways can you guys come up with to mess up this raid?

Cap has already tweeted me to let me know there should be innocent villagers being held hostage perhaps, with the Mahid.  (I'm still working on fixing the comments, Cap... thanks...)

So I'm looking for ideas for Mahid mayhem, please and thank you!  Please comment below...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

363 - What I Am Afraid Of

Surya refilled his teacup but didn’t sip.  “So you want to address your fear first? Is that your choice?”
“Um.  It feels deeper.”  Everything felt so loose, so unfettered, sloppy, without my wrappings on.  I shifted in my seat carefully, trying not to move my vile organs about.  “Fear, I meant.”
“Perhaps it is just what you want to go away most?”
“I think that’s first.”  I sat up and was able to relax a little.  If I could put it all in terms that I could think about rather than feel about...  If I could apply my mind to it, surely I had control over all of this? “I’m not sure why.”
“If you separate the emotions into the emotions of pleasure and the emotions of suffering, then fear is the emotion of suffering that underlies all the rest.”
I thought about it and couldn’t see any immediate solution.  “So... what do I DO to get at this?”
He smiled at me and I felt my gut sink...  “Go into what you are most afraid of.”
That meant... well... not just sleeping with someone... allowing my vilest organ to do what it wanted, to allow... I gulped a bit.  I knew what was necessary.  “To... have sex with someone willing.”  There.  I was able to just say it.  “Surya... if you mean I need to find someone who will... I mean... a... sexual partner.... I don't know either who or how.”  I couldn’t think of one person.
Of course he just came right back with “You want me to set that up for you?”
For a moment things went white at the thought.  “No no no. Um... no...I... I...”  I took a deep breath and he swam up out of the whiteness and gained colour again.  I seized control of myself.  “Gannara is like my brother... and he likes girls better anyway... and his torture involved my father so there might be enough resemblance to harm him...”  I choked up.
“As I said,” Surya said.  “Shall I set it up with a willing parnter?”
I was completely still, staring at Surya as if he were a wall about to fall on me.  I managed to swallow and I started shaking again.
“You thought you had it licked already there for a bit, didn't you?”  He sipped his tea, looking away for a moment, gently letting me seize control of myself again.  I managed to nod.
“Not to worry.  Chevenga and a lot of my other patients do that all the time.  Take another deep breath. Whatever you think will work.”  I didn’t dare open my mouth thinking that only random gobbling noises would emerge.  
“What are you afraid will happen?”
“I'm afraid... I'm afraid the same will happen again.”
He set his teacup down once more.  “You think you will harm the person you are having sex with?  You are afraid you are a rapist?”
“Y... y... yes.”
“Tell me again, what happened.”  I nearly collapsed in my chair but I’d promised I would try this.  “As I said... I was twelve.  My father insisted I use Chevenga... tortured to mindlessness... as... as... as... m... my first... sexual experience.”  He was looking through and around me as I spoke.
“Yes.  Your father insisted.”
“Bu...bu.. bu...”  
He cut me off.  “The first part of what you said, first.  You punish yourself for the whole thing, but the key is in the first part of what you said.”
“My father... in... in...”  I couldn’t say it.  Rage came roaring up.  Insisted was too gentle a word. “He... he... f...f...fff FORCED me.  It was my father!  He forced me.”
“Yes, exactly.  He used Chevenga as a living puppet to force you.  Truly, you can say that you’ve never touched Chevenga.  Nor he you.  Because he was just not there.”
“It wasn't him... it was my father...”  The rage that shook me was enough to make my vision blur again and my breath speeded up, my hands were clenched.  Weirdly, there was a surge of relief as well all tangled up in it.
He didn’t tell me to slow down my breathing.  “If your father, wherever he is now, could hear you -- what would you want to say to him?”
What?  If my father were here?  What?  The anger hurt less and didn’t cut into my gut the same way.
“I.... wouldn't say anything.”  My hands were fisted in front of my face.  “I... I’d want... to hit him, beat him to a pulp.” My eyes closed and I imagined the words.  “How could you? How dare you?”
I was quivering, panting, restrained by a hair-thin strand of control, the way I had been facing 2nd Amitzas, years ago, pushed too hard, breath roaring in my ears.  I distantly heard Surya say, “You see that cushion on that chair there?”  My head swivelled around and it was an oversized cushion, with a button in the centre, stuffing bulging like my father’s cheeks.  “That's his face.  Let it out. Room's soundproofed... go wild.”
I could stare at him, then the cushion.  I couldn’t. Not... just...
“Any questions?”  His face was completely calm.  He’d seen me cry why not this?  I couldn’t I just... My rage was so big it would rip me apart, destroy me burn the city to the ground, boil the world...  Endless... “Just see his face there.  Looking at you the way he tended to look at you. Do what you want.  Say to him what you want.”
It cracked wide open and I screamed myself hoarse, my hands pounding into into the overstuffed thing sinking to my wrists. I howled and cried and beat upon the feather and fabric, seeing my father’s face, bland and untouchable... making him see me, feel me, PAY ATTENTION PAY ATTENTION WAKE UP I’M HERE I’M ME I’M SEPARATE FROM YOU...   Even as I went on and on and on somewhere in the back of my head I was amazed I hadn’t ripped the pillow apart.  Thank the Gods I’d worked out hard this morning with Kallijas already and didn’t have much left. “...that’s ugly, that’s vile and evil and wrong and YOU YOU YOU did that to me...”  
“I'm not part of you You couldn't make me, then and you can't make me into that now...” I heard Surya encouraging me.
“You tell him.”
“I'm myself.  Not you No matter what you do, you can't make me into you! The Mahid couldn't make me into you 2nd Amitzas couldn't force me to be you No one can! No one, do you hear me?  No one!” That was most of what I screamed before I lost words, roaring and raging like baby Ili.
Surya encouraged me every time I showed sign of slowing down until I lay completely exhausted, my face in the ruined cushion, my arms hanging down, on my knees, barely able to turn my head to the side to breathe, the ragged noise of my breathing was more like sobbing, clean tears, sobbing dry but still sobbing.
He gathered me up into his arms and held me, gently as a mother, gently as Binshala, as gently as the first time Chevenga held me... or Definas... or Gannara. I had so many people who loved me... Even though part of me felt surprised there was someone there who wanted to hold me, to help me.  Did I deserve it?  It didn’t matter.  “That's what I've been afraid of... all these years... that somehow he'd succeed in making me into a copy of himself.”  I whispered this into Surya’s chest, my voice ragged, barely there.
“Just be with the knowledge that he has failed,” Surya said quietly.
“I was afraid...that there was enough of him in me... but there isn't.  He can't succeed and he's dead now.  He can't succeed even through my own blood.”
“Exactly.  Because blood does not make choices... this is what I was saying... choices are a thing of the spirit, and blood is material.”
I drew a deep breath.  “And I deserve to be helped, healed.  I’m allowed to accept help.”
“Exactly.”  He held me.  “Do you think you can walk out of here,” he asked me gently some time later, as I yawned.  “Or should I call one of the palace chairs?  Or you can just lie down here for a while.  It is up to you.”
I managed to say “Chair please.  Um... bill?” I was curled in his arms like a hurt child.
“Don’t worry.  I’ll send the bill to you at the Marble Palace.”  I barely remembered the swing and lurch of the chair and didn’t remember lying down in the bed at all.