Joras Mahid, the senior is going to correct you so severely… The okas labourer let go the handle of the cart he was pulling, letting the two front legs settle onto the pavement. …I would not be you before you are sent to Hayel for failure. The line into the city began moving and he took up his cart again.
The First Second had sent him out to find the fate of the family’s lost sheep an eight-day ago. Once more he entertained the low, treacherous thought that he could travel more freely were he trained to be a normal Aitzas, or even solas.
He sent a grateful prayer to Muunas that he was allowed to see the city once more. Matthas Mahid, hauling a load of salt fish with a number of other okas for a Fispur/Arko transport firm, raised his head and gawked at the Main Gate tunnel to the city as if he’d never seen it before.
I closed my eyes, terrified. The Imperial Chapel. This had to be the Imperial Chapel. Only Imperial family were allowed in here. I had never seen it before. I had only read about its existence and realized that father wouldn’t care if I never saw it. He didn’t believe in the Gods and since I was part of him, obviously I wouldn’t either.
I was about to be struck by lightning. I could feel it. I had to open my eyes, even as I backed up and set my back to the closed door, as if I could somehow distance myself from the High God who was everywhere.
The chapel was wood inside, not stone. No marble. Pale, silky rubbed wood. Hand-polished honey oak lined the walls and the floor, the roof was glass made dark blue-black by the evening sky. It smelled of beeswax, very sweet, ancient; I could smell my own sweat and wanted only to be out of there. The altar was a single plane of quartz polished and set on red granite legs.
The Presence light shone in gold glass from the wall behind the bare altar. I threw myself into the prostration. There are no images of the Gods here. That was all I had time to think, my nose and forehead pressed into the wood, because the room burst into light. Muunas came.
God. God. My father, oh God. Please don’t look at this abject, most abject of worms, God. This lowly one is a smudge of damp darkness beneath the most High God, Lord, this abject one cannot bear it. God, God, Muunas, The most brilliant. My God.
The Sun blazed in the room, heat, light poured from the altar over me. Though it killed me, I wanted it. Muunas would burn my sins out of me if no one else could. My heart was breaking and I didn’t know why. I wept. My heart was breaking. I was terrified but that was wonderful too. Finally I understood what awe-full really meant.
My breath caught and all I could hear for a moment was the hammering thunder of my blood, my corrupt blood. I wasn’t dreaming I was awake. I wasn’t dreaming. I could hear the shriek of Eagles in my ears. I was flat upon the ground as in my dream, but the eye of God had found me.
The thunder of God’s wings was in my ears and I was wheeling above the ground, I was in the air, falling, rising I didn’t know up from down I couldn’t feel the earth under me. All I could see was light and my eyes were streaming tears, even though I had thought myself wept out.
“Look at Me.” He spoke down to me, as okas, as His. That was only seemly; He was God. His voice picked me up, shook me, dropped me, it was the roar of a fire when the wind rushes in, thunder out of a clear sky.
My head snapped up and I stared into the light, beads of my tears fracturing the radiance a thousand-fold. I could look nowhere else but into the face of God.
I realized I was on my belly upon the ground and scrambled forward an armslength or two and my eyes began to burn.
Red began to tinge the Fire around the God’s face. “Do you think that is close enough?”
I don’t remember moving but I blinked straight up into His face a moment later, my heart felt crushed to the size of a coal in my chest. I was on my knees arms upraised, beseeching. I couldn’t breathe. He reached out a hand toward me; it seemed vast, coming from an enormous distance, shrinking as it came down to me becoming merely human size by the time it cupped the back of my head. I was surrounded in fire, laid bare, burned open, waxen seals on my soul running free like water. All of me was laid open under His eye. Every sin I’d ever done, or thought, or encouraged was there spread on the floor like dung. “G..God.” My throat was dry, scorched of moisture but I needed to speak, to reverance Him.
“Kurkas’s son.” I wanted to shrink away from Him, ashamed, cold, ashes in my mouth for my bloodline. “You believe in Me.”
“Yes, Most High.”
“You will cease running from Me.”
“Yes, Most High.” There was no other answer. I did not know how to address him as okas, I had never learned it, but I spoke from fessas. His other hand came up and he pressed a thumb to my forehead, between my eyes. Light poured through me and my body twitched as though it dared not have a convulsion. “i..i’m yours, God.”
“Good. Very Good.”
“let me sss...serve you, God.”
“You will. With every breath.”
“God, will you burn the darkness out of me?” I strained forward toward Him.
“I will not.” My eyes dropped and I could feel myself slide away from Him. “LOOK AT ME. DO NOT LOOK AWAY.” I was shaken, wrenched out of the pit, looking up into the Sun once more, a mole dragged out into daylight. “Kurkas’s son, what will you do with your darkness?”
“Drive it out of me, if I can.”
“What would you have in its place?” I was burning, shaking, wanting to sob, wanting to scream. “truth, Lord. justice.” Something else pushed out of my lips that I didn't understand at first. "L...love." My head—in his hands—felt as if it were plunged for a moment into molten steel. I bit my tongue, tasted blood. I wanted to hang my head, could only weep scalding tears out of wide open eyes because I dared not look away from Muunas’s face. He released me as though I had burned Him, dropping me into myself again. I knew what he would say before He said it.
“My Son on Earth is a true measure. He listens for My whispers with a just and caring heart. He is your guide. Let him guide you.” The water in my eyes made the image of the God swim... but His eyes were brimming… tears of fire flowed down his cheeks… Who did He weep for? His hand upon my head was warm and I sobbed. It felt like Binshala’s hand, stroking my hair, waking me from a nightmare. “You have been long away, and wandering in the cold darkness, child. You have been in a very lonely place.”
“Yes, oh God.” I sobbed.
“Listen to my voices on the sphere of the earth! Try. Out of your love of Arko is your possibility. Love my people and I will be with you, if you win Arko or not.” His voice was the roar of the dragon, the exploding mountain, the whips of fire from Sun. --“yes, Lord. i obey.” -- I floundered out of the Imperial chapel on my backside, bursting out of the flung-open door, not able to rise, not able to take my eyes off the altar and the Presence light shining there. Crab-wise I scrambled straight into Chevenga’s hands held out to catch me. I clung to him with all my strength.
“Ch’venga,” I closed my eyes finally, turned my head into his shoulder, reached out to Gan with one blind hand, almost whimpering. Gasping, wheezing the words out of my constricted throat. “I’ll try.”