There was a pause, a collective holding of breath. As I knelt I felt the silver chain around my neck twitch, as if a finger riffled through my silver charms. The house donkey flipped over completely, and the flower that symbolized my not having finished healing yet actually rose up as if held and carefully regarded.
Then it dropped and I was free to rise. My hands moved to slap the palms together, the sharp pop outside what I had been ritually taught. “Tazagu fermsee.” I said but it was not my voice.
I rose and paced across to prostrate before Oas. God of reaping. God of farmers, tenders of flocks, Husbandman. Oh Thou Who is the Grain that Perishes and the Beer that is drunk of it. The Fired Water of Life and the Workman between the unskilled Freedman and the Designer.
Oh Thou, Withe User, Shepherd, Cattleman. Thou who keeps the Hydro flowing. Spirit of the Bench Tech. Winnower. He Who Dies and Yearly rises. The Ten of Oas were all about the work that was just beneath fessas.
I stood, at last, beneath the sight of the Reaper and his scythe began to move, whistling fast. The crowd barely had time to begin reacting as I dropped to one knee and the razor edge of His Mikas-forged blade snapped over my head so close I felt it, though it didn’t clip a single hair of my head. I started to think of how hard that must have been for Virani-e, but felt myself falter as I ceased to focus on right this instant. “Viron eta serk utskomp let.” I intoned, settling back into the rite. It had to be my steel-tipped focus. Right here. Right now.
I was breathing hard again, but it wasn’t fear of Oas. Respect and awe yes. But I turned to the Goddess that frightened me to the core of my bones. “Four of TEN!” “Four of Ten!” The sea-roar of the crowd seemed to be more unified and I could feel them behind me, more and more as I succeeded.
I set my teeth as I stepped up to the fessas level. The whole Temple shook with its voice, it presented a sequence of words. I had been taught the response by rote. A rage in me rose. I will learn what the Temple words are. What they mean. I will learn what they used to mean. They are not nonsense, to be parroted, unknowing. Someone must know.
“Are you finally using the brain We gave you?” I heard in my head as I genuflected correctly to Mikas and turned to step toward Risae. Her body was lusciously woman shaped, but the white strips of rigid marble, flowing over her perfect curves, had sharp edges implying they were pressed to creases, not falling in the graceful folds of all the other Goddesses. Her cheekbones were sharp enough to cut a metaphor on and there were no tendrils of hair allowed to escape the stricture of its confinement.
Her look was sharp and clear and spectacles would not dare to intrude and imply less than perfection. There was a breast pocket on the strip of cloth around her neck... the rigid strip of marble... full of pens and instruments. One was a magnifier.
Her hand hovered over the small table with the chirurgeon’s knife on it, that had cut Virani-e’s throat. The bloodstain on the stone sprayed out from the puddled stain in the marble, where I would stand, after dancing her Ten.
It must be perfect. Sharp. Exact. I must not deviate in the slightest. Not by so much as a hair’s width imperfection was allowed. I would dance her Ten like clockwork. Ahn lyz.
Two more steps. Waye. The word burst out of me as a command. And finally, Ti or ayz.
Goddess of the Doctor’s Knife. Goddess of the Blood and the Blond and the Blue. Goddess of Image. Maker, Carver in flesh of the Arasian race. Divine desire of perfection. Destroyer of Blight. Bringer of pain, that we be perfect. Keeper of mortal’s seed. Chooser of the Gaiynomas. Maintainer of the Pool of Perfect Form and Function. Great Fireas of Illness. Orderer of Anae’s Things. Linniasean.
I give my blood oh Holy Cutter. But her hand did not hold the scalpel in it, proffered to me. She held the magnifier. I swallowed hard. What must I see? I peered through it and saw, in her other hand, a miniature of myself. As I caught my breath I fell towards that tiny self and it expanded to show every spot and stain on me, on my soul; from petty thought to murder.
My eyes were full of tears. “There is so much, oh Destroyer.”
“Look in context, child of Our Summoner.”
I nearly stumbled in my motion. Child of the God’s Summoner? I drew a deep breath and looked. I could see the spots on me, the way I could see the spots of rot on an apple. I was partly rotten, partly pure.
There was no escape from the truth. I desperately wanted to fall to my knees, to my face, but if I did I would fail. I would die. Risae would take me. Goddess give me strength. Help me. I do not beg to be cleansed. I beg to learn how to cleanse myself.