I lay, staring vaguely in the direction of the ceiling. The orator who had relayed my truth-drugging bowed and left the room. Gannara and Kyriala were both in the room with me… Farasha and Ili were with Atzana in the main library with Ailadas and Sera Eren and Ribbons.
Chevenga had invited us all to the Marble Palace for Jitzmitthra. Sera Eren and Ribbons were going to be here. Ailadas had promised he would come too. I thought I’d just hide in the Lesser Baths during Jitz. The water would keep me sane and I wouldn’t have to eat anything. I could just hide in this gigantic stone pile.
I’d be able to show Tawaen and Kima and Vriah and Ili my secret passages and get them to bring things up from my treasure trove. After all, I was too big to fit down that column staircase comfortably anymore anyway.
My thoughts were wandering still. Not black not jagged edged any longer. I was exhausted. Beaten flat it felt like. Gray. That was what I felt. Gray. I managed to sit up and clasp my arms around my raised knees, put my head on them.
I could hear Gan and Kyriala talking quietly. This would be the first she would have heard about this ugliness and I couldn’t face her. Gan… I really wanted him. But I couldn’t pull myself together enough to ask.
The hand on my shoulder was unfamiliar. I raised my face to see it was my mother. I couldn’t stand it. She was so perfect a Mahid that she was unsworn yet so she would not have to swear to a barbarian… “Minis,” she said.
“Yes, honoured mother?” I said, to my knees.
“You have done your best. If you continue this, you will be impairing your function. Now what you must do, what is demanded of you, is that you wait, and rest. The votes… the voice of the masses will be gathered and counted in their own good time.”
“They must all be gathered in, from across the Empire, by First Muunas, or they will not be accepted in the count…” I managed a shuddering breath. “I need to speak to the young okas man. See if I can somehow apologize or make it right. He’s probably in Kallen’s campaign offices, giving interviews.”
“He and his brother served you, as Spark.”
“And that makes my demanding one of their lives… and demanding that one kill the other… somehow right?” I was sick again but there was nothing left in my stomach.
“To value lives? It is the new way,” she said quietly. “Your father’s way was to send anyone to the afterlife without thought, at his whim. Most Arkans are only beginning to understand that.”
“Yes, mother. I just hope that whoever wins the Crystal Throne understands that. From my studies, it seems obvious to me that any Imperator who valued people as more than commodities, achieved greater prosperity for the whole Empire, and greater prosperity for the individual.”
“You make your argument for yourself.”
Her hand had not moved. She was still and calm as if she were one of the Marble Palace statues, as close to the perfect Mahid as human could be... except that she didn’t seem to be drawn to, nor excited by pain. Either other people’s or her own, which was odd for a Mahid.
“Come on, Minis,” Gannara said. Ever the voice of sense for me. He was so good to me. What would I do without him if he ever decided to leave me? Should he leave me? For his own sake? “Let’s get you cleaned up. You want to try and talk to this Miksas fellow and then you will have done all you can. You’ll be able to swim or rest or help me put together our Jitzmitthra costumes.” Mother moved to one side, the warmth of her glove vanishing away from my shoulder as if I’d imagined it.
I nodded and managed to raise my head. Next step, next step, next step.
I took my security and went by carry chair to see if I could speak to Miksas. He was at Kallen’s offices and I asked to speak to him privately but his face was red and he certainly didn’t care to keep things quiet. “YOU JUST WANNA SUCK UP TAH ME ‘N MAKE IT LOOK GOOD!”
His face, thrust directly into mine as I stood before him, was red and wild. I was so sorry I could not make this right. “PEOPLE’RE VOTIN’ NOW AND YEH WANNNA SAVE YOUR OWN STINKIN’ HIDE AND WIN THE STINKIN’ THRONE!” He spat full in his hand and struck me with his palm full of the goo in the face and all I did was flinch. All around I could see or feel people’s eyes flickering to Joras behind me and then back to see what I would do.
I raised my hand as Joras exclaimed “That’s fearfully rude, Serin!”
“Peace, Joras. He has a right to his opinion and I abrogated the right to have him not touch me, years ago. I owe the man more than a little humiliation. Perhaps we can be reconciled once the election is over. If I lose... we might not need to be reconciled.” I did wipe my face with a kerchief as he stood, trembling between amazement at his own temerity and a flash or two of fear. Joras still looked Mahid even if he were no longer moving or dressing like one.
“Ser Asas,” I said as calmly as I could, even as I ripped myself up inside. “If I win, let us speak again, that I might make this right with you and your family. If I lose, I can only ask that you speak to me quickly, before the new Imperator decides my fate. I owe you. I admit it.”
This time he spat upon the ground and turned away from me. I contented myself with stepping away from the gobbet of spit, trying not to hear the mutters and murmurs around me, certain I would hear nothing good. My skin felt tight where the spit had dried and I wanted to wash all over but that would have to wait.
“Chair-bearer? I should like to go to the Presentation Square, if you would be so kind.”
The Temple was full of people, each praying to the Ten in their own way, on their own levels. I looked out over the square from the top step, before I stepped in, and saw the Square polling booths had lines all the way down to Golden Rings Avenue and perhaps all the way to the Boardwalk at the lake. Perhaps further, I could not see.
People were voluntarily showing their colour stained gloves to the line to show they’d voted... a cripple with no hands showed off his colour stained toes.
I turned and looked into the sanctuary through the wide-open doors. Inside there was a massed choir singing. A hundred or more voices... perhaps the half choir of five hundred. I closed my eyes and let the sound of five hundred voices wash over me. It was soothing.
I walked up between rows of praying Arkans. Most of whom had voted I could see from their stained gloves. The kahara circle, in the exact centre of the Temple, with tiles from all the levels of the Ten woven into the spiral into it, lay under all the Gods’ eyes.
I stepped carefully along one long, delicate spiral with gold and silver tiles from Muunas and Selinae. Electrum and quicksilver from Aras and Dimae. Cobalt and Actinine from Mikas and Risae. Iron and copper from Oas and Mella. Earthen tiles in two kinds of red from Imbas and Anae.
I stood in the centre and raised my face to the sky-lit ceiling so far above. I am here. Gods. I tried. The rest is in your hands. Whatever you wish for me... I accept. I thank you that I could attempt this. I am grateful for all opportunities. I am grateful.
Praise You oh Holy Ones. Praise you. I can do no less than my best. And if you wish... afterwards. I shall give my blood to the young man who I owe. To Miksas Asas. The Empire will have call upon me, but my grandfather will be able to help me expiate my sins as a child, I am sure. I offer that wish up to you Ten.
Joras touched my elbow, bringing me down to reality. This was the Temple. It was too open and vulnerable for his taste. I lowered my gaze and turned, following him out of the Temple back across the square to the Marble Palace.
I cast my own vote... an abstention because I could not bear to vote for anyone else and it was just nasty -- somewhat like shenning into one's own hands -- to vote for one’s self. I wrote in, ‘Muunas. Sun Rising.’