Thursday, December 12, 2013

Current Hiatus

Dear Readers,

I'm sorry I just stalled out in the middle of things.

I have a very lucrative translation job that I am deadlining for and I understand that Karen is on the point of starting to write about the Antarkticans, a culture I came up with years ago, to eventually startle the pants/kilt off Chevenga, so you'll have SOME reading while I'm on hiatus!

I will be out of things until after the New Year, though if I can find them there's a few stories I have not yet published, a few pictures I have not yet passed on.  I will try to put up some of those.

 I still have to finish 'An Empire's Bearing' where we will see a full Mahid Girls Faib team... the Mahid trials... and... well, you'll see.

Michael will be helping me write another book you guys might be interested in, tentatively titled 'First Fire Come'. He is writing from the p.o.v. of a Buff bomber crew.  Since that's his area of expertise from when he was in S.A.C. (Hey, that means I married a Kommanza!) it should be good.

Have a Good Holiday and Everybody Stay Safe, Okay?  Ili and JiaKlem would be sad if you didn't.

Monday, September 30, 2013

678 - A Fan-Slapped Man

Did this mean that the Temple could cleanse people? Now that It was more active? But they still had no source of contagion.
He looked over at the Imperial bed and saw Ky sitting up, rubbing sleep out of her eyes before she padded across to sit down on his lap, as he pushed his chair back to give her space. “You had a dream?” She said, her trailing toe on the dog's back as she laid her head on his shoulder.

“I did, my dear, my darling, my astonishing wife,” he said quietly into her hair. “The Gods said we... all four of us... have to sleep in he Temple if we want children.”

She raised her head and looked into his eyes. “Oh. That means we have to be healed by the Temple then... and that this illness must be continuously being either brought in, or somehow passed around so people are re-exposed.”

“I can't have the whole Empire come through the Temple, but I have to consult with the Fenjitzae,” Minis said tiredly. “Perhaps we can slow the spread of this, by calling for a renewal of some kind... get everyone of child-bearing age into the Temple inside the next few weeks.”

“Did the Gods tell you how long someone had to be in the building to be helped?”

He shrugged, felt her slide up and down him slightly as he did. “No. Muunas told me that the four of us needed to sleep there. I don't know if it would help anyone else but we should try.”

She yawned and nodded, getting up. “Make a note to yourself for the morning, then come back to bed. You will help no one by jittering yourself into illness.”

His lips twisted into a relucant smile. “Now you sound like Mikas,” he said as he scribbled a note, swiped the nib clean on the blotter.

She smiled down at him. “Thank you, love. Now come back to bed.”

“Yes, dear.” He leaned forward and kissed her stomach through the nightgown. “I am terribly fan-slapped.” She laughed.


Idiesas had one of the elite guard outside this tiny little room, that had a bed made up on the floor for the four of them, even though everyone in the Empire knew that the Temple would defend Minis. Him certainly, but his loves? Who knew? I truly appreciate his diligence. I am requesting Ilesias Mahid come back from Yeola-e to be part of the upcoming Mahid Trials.

It was odd how his relationship with the Mahid had changed over the years. From indifference to virulent hatred to a curious kind of homesickness, since he'd lost Joras. It wasn't Mahid as a concept that he missed it was individuals. Like Joras. It was time he went up to the gravesite again. He'd take Amitza and Jorasa as his guard. People were still going on about his Mahid being women, but he felt just as safe with them as his guard, as with the men, and Idiesas was keeping them in his roughest training. They were good enough as far as he was concerned.

The Temple wasn't the most restful place to sleep in but the hum of the night choir heard distantly through the heavy closed door, and the incense, was soothing. Somehow the sound of his love's breathing and the singing began to meld together.

Monday, September 9, 2013

677 - This One Invents Stuff

Amitzas nodded at the young man he'd brought. “This is Ubifeksas Ilo, fessas. He is one of the interesting group of inventors who were gathered to work together under Shefenkas, inspired by Sera Diadesia.” The fellow bobbed his head and scrambled his notebook open, paper rustling wildly. “I have brought him into this discussion to take notes and to offer his mechanical and inventive expertise. He has a number of sketches for additional water purification works, should our problem be arising out of the water.” He turned back toward Minis.

“Akminchaer and I have noted that the information we've been going through has shown a small clue, a trend that we believe might help. This illness, in its current form, seems to manifest only under certain conditions, those of excessive heat and moisture, as this spring and summer have been.”

He nodded to the Haian, who rose as Amitzas settled back into his chair. Akminchaer nodded a bit as he spoke, hands clasped together. “All of us in the city Itself are treating symptoms as they manifest in the city but we have not been able to ascertain the possible source of the disease. We are still searching.”

Minis nodded. “I've called for the renewal of every water cleansing protocol we've ever had, beginning with the water out of the city. Even if we don't know that this is waterborne, it is a good place to start. The ancient codes of conduct are being applied even as we speak. It seemed a good idea to me to start with the water exiting the city. If it is, indeed, waterborne then we can hopefully stop it spreading.”

Ackminchaer looked relieved. “If it were spread by air, the incidence might not so closely follow the river, which leads us to suspect it is waterborne as the Boy Plague was. There are Haians coming from Haiu Menshir whose specialty is disease vectors, airborne, insect and water.”

Could it be foodborne?” That was Ubifeksas. “In feces? Is is sexually transmitted? How about through personal touch?” The young man looked around the circle and cringed slightly as he realized he'd just spoken up, and in such company.

Ackminchaer blinked. “I have been researching those. Those are excellent questions.”

Yes, indeed,” Inensa said. “Young man, what do you invent?”

Um, er, Dowager Imperatrix. This one invents things. Stuff. The last thing was the system for water purification that his honour spoke of. Lenses, things that burn, weights and magnets. This one's honourable father once built automata for the late, unlamented Imperator.”

Ah. Excellent.”

If I may see your sketches?” Minis put out his hand and Ubifeksas hurried to thrust his open notebook into it.


Later that night Minis lay, staring up into the darkness above them, listening to his love's soft breathing. Or not so soft. Kyriala rolled over and started snoring and Gannara began a whistling snort through his nose.

Minis grinned briefly. It wasn't as if he were trying to sleep anyway. Then he frowned and shifted slightly in his love's grip, the whole bed rolling slightly under them all. They hadn't come to any kind of conclusion but the young fessas man had presented them with new ideas for water cleansing, but it was too small scale for the whole city...

...the white mule brays in my face and I fall backwards onto my rear. “What? Lord, that's not funny. Please help us. Not just for me--”

I don't see the God anywhere. I'm running around, scrambling from window to window, from door to door. “Gods! I'm here!”

There was a moment, a long moment when I stood, poised, trembling on the edge between two choices, running wildly into the white mist, calling, or stopping. I quiver and hear Dimae's hounds baying in the distance. “I cannot find You chasing with no direction.” It is as if he could hear Tanifas advising him “Be calm and be secure in yourself. That way very little becomes an emergency. If you are calm then you have more strength to react and you have more will to act in the first place.”

I'm sitting in a white space, breathing deeply, my hands open on my thighs. “Better, boy.” I blink and gaze up into Muunas's vast face. I am afraid but I am also filled with love and awe. “I acknowledge my terror, Father of All, and accept.” He smiles and my sight whites out with the light of it.

Mikas and Risae will both help you. For now, you and your alesinas and your wives must all sleep in the Temple. It is our tool, as you well know in your bones and blood.” I quiver and lay a hand on the star-splayed scar on my chest. A vision of Hayel and burning alive as poison was blasted out of my body flickers through my memory. But the greater memory of my Ten Tens glows stronger.

Thank you, Father of All. I will pray with gratitude and remember. No more begging.”

His face becomes a foxes' mask next to my shoulder and I hear Mikas laugh in my ear. “Good. Begging rises out of fear. Don't snivel, boy.”

I must look mulish as I think 'I WASN'T SNIVELLING', because the donkey begins braying again and I get kicked in back and... Minis woke up to find Gannara having a dream, with both feet pushing against his rear. He rolled up slowly and over Farasha, without putting his weight on her, to pull on his robe and sit down at the desk. The Gods had finally answered. 
Not a solution for the whole Empire, certainly. There wasn't room for the whole Empire to sleep in the Temple.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

676 - Dead Rodents

The Whip and the Cudgel both ceremoniously put down their jeweled instruments and the Speaker rose for the closing of this session of Assembly. Minis sat, thoughtfully, nodding to the various Assembly men and women who were chatting as their clerks and secretaries secured their papers and pens, closed up lap desks.

He had another inspection tour of the city's waterworks scheduled for this evening, this time upstream. Since the Yeoli conquest things had shifted and some of the cleansing rituals had been mandated as redundant or useless, but if this illness was waterborne then every ritual had to be reinstated to try and stop it.

Kyriala and Gannara were at the annual street fair for the glassworkers of Arko and Farasha was at a small festival of booksellers and library caravaneers. Bella and Doof were both waiting for him at the end of the glass bridge.

The parrot fluttered off the stand and landed on his outstretched arm. He'd learned to block the head landing. Minis smiled and let her nibble on his fingers around the seal. He turned and found his way blocked by both his grandfather and Akminchaer. “Um, gentlemen?”

They didn't even glance at each other. How weird is it that my grandfather and a Haian are working together so well? “Grandson.”

“Yes, Grandsire?”

Akminchaer took over as if they'd rehearsed it. “You may be fit and only in your twenties, Imperator...” Why do I hear the 'but'? “But in a crisis you need to be more careful of yourself, rather than less.”

His stomach growled right then and even Amitzas smiled slightly. “I will be more careful, Akminchaer, Grandsire.”

“May I suggest that we report to you over luncheon?”

All right.” He had changed things in the Marble Palace routines about meals just so his chamberlain didn't tear all the rest of his hair out, trying to schedule court meals around him. I'd insisted that the court sit to eat three meals a day, not six and that they didn't have to wait for me to show up to eat. But the private kitchen for the Imperator always seemed ready to feed me. I should commend their diligence.

He turned to Atzana who, as always, seemed to materialize at his elbow the moment he stepped out of the Assembly chamber. “A note, please, Atzana. A commendation to the private kitchen, for diligence and excellence.”

“Yes, Minis.”

They all trouped over to the Imperial Chambers and through, out to the balcony, where a wheeled cart with covered dishes was just being delivered, along with the food taster, Amas.

As he sat down to wait for his taster's go ahead the room filled up with the family coming in. Ili and his friends blasted through on their skates, Bella lumbering up to chase after the young rowdies, but only for a step or two and a bark more like a burp than anything else.

Doof fluttered over to hang upside down from the perch and poke the hook of her beak into a pinkfruit and dribble juice into the sandbox below.

Amitzas summoned in a young man that Minis didn't know, who dropped the sketchbook he had clutched to his chest as he did the prostration. “Gehit.”

Inensa came in, accompanied by another Mahid girl who was apparently acting as her welcomist and secretary. Minis thought he knew all the Mahid left but didn't recognize this one.

Amas, who had inherited his position after his father died in the infamous poison oysters attack on Shefenkas, nodded to him and smiled a bit, before he withdrew. So Minis loaded a plate for himself as everyone settled in chairs around the sitting area. The chef had outdone himself. There was a variation of beef skewers normally sold as street food in Arko, but with a garlic, rosemary and oil dipping sauce that made the water run together in his mouth. There was fresh Hyerne flatbread and a fillet of bluefish, tail curled crisp, divided into individual mouthfuls so each could be lifted and eaten without getting a single drop of sauce on the hands.

There was a rice dish with apricots and threads of saffron, with bite sized pieces of perfectly cooked lamb, and puff pastry stuffed with greens and cheese before being slathered with butter and baked. And to finish there was a sweetened yellowfruit ice set in an ornamental ice bowl, melting slowly, even in the heat.

Everyone took their time settling down, getting kaf from the service table, mostly to give him time to eat something. Minis let his eye settle on the young man he didn't know, then looked to his grandfather who was, as usual, not letting anything slip. He shrugged to himself and assumed he'd find out in the course of this meeting.

“I am hoping that everyone has good news for me that I will be able to implement, or pass on to Assembly when everyone comes back, or both. This... thing... cannot spread out of Arko.”

“Yes, Grandson.” Amitzas stood up slowly and everyone turned to him. “I must report, I regret to say, I have no creature in any of my very specialized menageries that can produce an effect like this. I have gone back into the records of the Imperial Pharmacists since before the Boy Plague and I have no evidence of anything like this, in any of them. Daughter?”

“I have similar unfortunate results to report, for every garden that I have charge of. I began testing combinations of all our toxins but so far everything I have attempted has resulted in merely lethal compounds.”

Minis raised an eyebrow. “You mean you are testing every one of your poisonous compounds in combination now?”

She nodded. “I am beginning with combinations of two. So far I have a lot of dead rodents, rather than ones incapable of breeding.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Ebook Released

This is the newly revised, new release of Sparks in the Wind!  Wheeee!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

675 - Most Gracious Emulsifying Flow of Benificence Tower 5 Filter Puller

It was the dark of the morning, before true sunrise even and beads before rim dawn. The filter rincer cart creaked along in the aftermath of the rincing of this sector from drain basin to drain basin, each right by its own street light. A team of full sized donkeys waited patiently and stepped forward one step, or back one step, under their teamster's quiet voiced commands, to adjust the cart perfectly over each basin.
From hundreds of year ago, at Risae's direct command, the filters had been swapped out this way. The carter skinned under his cart and ran the hooks and chains down to the holes in the stone grating, then out and set the crank into its socket and slowly cranked the heavy stone filter up into the waiting slot in the cart above. The hooks clicked as they came loose. “Step, my lads,” he called and the cart creaked forward just a pace.
The crank was pulled out and set into the next hole and the clean filter creaked down into place. “Slip under, Melkias my lad!” he called and this time the boy went under to unhook the newly placed filter.
“Tha's the last one, da.” The teamster nodded a tired smile at his boy.
“'ah. So we're drivin' it down, 'n then. Run 'n tell yer ma we're ont' way.”
Y'ser!” The boy trotted off down the street, able to move much more quickly than the heavy cart. It always was heavier, the filters just pulled full of Anae's anathema, rolling along in their cloud of stink. His part in keeping the city clean. The teamster pulled on his evening's last pair of clean gloves, set his knotted hands behind his back and clicked to his donkeys, strolling beside them as they plodded home, heads bobbing. Since the foreign Imperator the wheels were coated with that Niah's rubber so their passage was a lot quieter than when he'd been a boy, running with his grandda first, then his father and uncles. The filter cart, ten full slots and one always empty, was designed not to drip much. No sense in catching the dirt in the water and re-spreading it on the streets.
Being a city filter puller was a good position in the water works, as high and noble a calling as the upstream filter cleaners, even. He nodded to himself. Life was good. They'd set the cart under the crane, unhitch, and leave the mess to the raisers and rincers, washing the filters into the long flowerbeds leading to the lake. They'd head home to sleep in, in the morning, have kaf in the neighbourhood square in the bright, clean day...
That was when his boy came pelting back, out of breath, eyes wide. “Inspect'r da... 'n Himself! Him whose got Oas and Anae's ears and Herself fessas Goddess's too! Vodaid 'n all, but still! Imperator, da!”
He nearly stopped in his tracks, but his donkeys plodded on so he hurried to keep up around his final corner to the rinse tower, Melkias bouncing beside him. “Imperator? At this hour? At the Most Gracious Emulsifying Flow of Benificence Tower 5?”
An our Assemblypeople 'n bodyguards 'n Pages writers 'n welcomists 'n secretaries 'n...”
Calm down, m'lad. This pro'ly has tah do wi' our callin' 'n whut t' Pages say 's 'an illness'. We'm just tah do our jobs, boy. Nay tah worrit!”
Yeah, da.” But the thrill and fear of seeing someone so high in station down at the lowest of the okas washing towers still shone in his face.
The base of their tower was full of lights, he could see all the way down the street. Hand lamps big enough to need two people with poles and hooks to carry them. Bats swooped to the bounty of insects drawn in by all the light, their silent shadows wifting over the flowerbeds and the stone of the street.
Calmmit, calm. We vodai'd im in, boy. He's ourn. We vodai'd em all in, newminted prolly lookin' good fer tah Pages and tah see us workin' they gotta be here middle o' night.” He considered clicking up his team but didn't see any use in trying to get them to move faster, at the end of their round. Flash tired you out, his old dad used to say. Then you couldn't do your proper work. 'Leave flash for them as hafta talk tah the dirt-hating Gods.' Then the donkeys, as they usually did, stepped up faster anyway along the last block, wanting stable and home.

Monday, July 29, 2013

674 - Never Do God's Work Less Than Perfectly

The Temple choir had just paused for one of the ten silences during the day, so the only sound was the whisper of wind through the ceiling vaults. Birds that found their way in and not yet caught by the priests and novices chirped distantly above.
... I pray to the Ten... Help us. Guide us. We are in trouble without You... Minis had long ceased whispering his prayers out loud, but the refrain ran through his head still, even as the sun rose in the sky. Atzana would just have to reschedule his appointments. He'd been praying, instead of sleeping, and the words were finally running into a vast, echoing hum in his head devoid of any meaning, driven only by the intense feeling of need.
Just as the choir resumed its round of hymns, a 'click' sounded but before Minis could raise his head his whole body stiffened. ## ##### STATUS FILES FOU### EMERGENCY BIOHAZARD PROTO#### FILE DAMAGED ###:::: ILE# Numb::er## It was as if all Ten gods were shouting in his head at once in the most ancient of Arkan. EMERG### He could understand perhaps one word in ten and even those made no sense.
...I can see only light, it is too bright, it is too loud. It looks like Risae's cold, white workrooms, screaming, I hear screaming. I can see bodies thrashing on a white surface. Men somehow shrunk to the size of a glass box on a table, blood flowing bright. A window into another place where stars shine stark without twinkling... A vast glass marble below... the Earthsphere turning. Above. Minis flung his arms over his head, afraid it would fall on him.
Risae is not here. There is a short, round woman with fessas cut straight hair and spectacles. Her hair is dark. She watches the glass box of men killing and torturing one another with cold eyes.
They aren't dying fast enough, Ruth.” The voice comes from somewhere, disembodied. Muunas?
We just need to be patient,” she answered as if the man addressing her were there.
No. Our patience is being tried by the Almighty. You need to come up with some way of killing them off faster. We'll never get out of orbit at this rate. The apostate must be gone before the children of the Divine go home.”
I'll see.”
Doctor, believe that the Most High will guide your hands in this. You will create an illness of surpassing elegance and efficacy.”
The woman leans back tapping a pen against her lips. “Prophet of God, you'll get your illness. Soon. Which of the eugenics projects will you have me set aside for this?”
Get one of your students on it. That should be sufficient.”
I have just succeeded in making the eye-colour dominant,” she says. “I have the other physical tweaks complete and I am about to go into one of my own tanks, Murray. I won't be able to monitor any of my students as closely as necessary. Especially when setting them to build terminal illnesses for use on the damned.”
Let them start. You can put finishing touches on it once you come out in the image of the chosen, the blessed that you are creating.”
I suppose I could.”###$$####$ %^^#$%^* NNNNNNNNNNNNN###Ile no# #####
Then it is Risae standing in the middle of the metal room, she looks somehow uncertain in her own skin, if a God can be uncertain. It is as if She is not used to Her own skin. She regards the sealed glass vials in an open metal box. It clearly has a curse mark painted on the side.
Now, Charlotte, very nice work. The cure for this is where?” The girl next to Risae looks like a fessas and wrings her hands as if she were panicked at being less than perfect.
Um... Doctor... I just did the one.”
Idiot girl. You never, ever bioengineer an illness without its cure, it is part of its construction or you are no proper biotech. Go back into your notes and do it. Never do God's work less than perfectly.”
I am chastened.” The girl;!%$@###### #### ### FILE DAMAGED casts her eyes down as she says this. Then she takes up the box and bows out. “Praise the Lor##.”
Minis blinked his eyes open, staring at the bottom step before Muunas. There was so much noise in his head he could almost not hear the choir. He felt bruised inside and out. “Praise the Ten,” he finally managed to whisper. His mouth was dry and his whole body, still stretched on the tile, ached and stank of dry sweat. Was that my answer? The Ten ordered this plague to be created?

Monday, July 22, 2013

673 - I'm Just Going to DIE

“... as is set out in the infant Arkan constitution. The Assembly of Arko sits five times per year, thirty-six days each, so as to allow sufficient time for the work of the Empire as a whole, and to allow sufficient time for each member to spend working time in their constituency. This also a/l/l/o/w/s/ permits the government to not interfere with the Arkan religious calendar.”

Ilesias put his pen down and wiped his inky fingers on his kilt, and took a drink of juice. Then he stared longingly out the window where he couldn't see anything but tree-tops anyway. “Gian... Most honourable teacher... my essay isn't due until tomorrow. Perhaps I could take advantage of the daylight and go riding?”

The young man at his own desk in the Heir's schoolroom, where Ailadas had sat presiding over his older brother Minis and the pack of boys around him. He looked up as the rest of his class tried not to be too obvious in their pausing. “Ili,” he said mildly. “How many pages do you have completed in rough?”

“Um... nine. And a bit.”

“And your assignment for the Senior tutor?” Ailadas still critiqued Ili's work, though Gian did the bulk of the daily lesson grind. It was a major coup that the older man would take time from his busy professorship at the University to assist in the Heir's training, despite his age and infirmity.

“Um.” Ili looked down. “Ten pages. But I have a whole page of references!”

Gian got up and picked up the much-despised essay as the others in class returned to their own work, still listening even as they pretended industry. “Hmmm. Hmmm? Hmmm.” I just hate it when teachers make that noise. It means so many things you can never guess what this hmmm means! I want to go out and ride. Or skate. Or run with the kennel dogs. Or practice my sword-work or--

Spend another tenth on this section that explains what the House Whip's job is and the House Cudgel. Then you will be able to re-write it perfectly this evening after dinner.”

“Yes, teacher.” A whole tenth of a bead. I am just going to DIE.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

672 - Hit the Cascade!

Inensa leaned down to adjust her left faib skate. The fans of the Onyxine Razors sat raptly in the stands, watching the Mahid girls team warm up. In her whites, with her hair braided tight, she looked like every other Mahid woman on the team. She was sitting as second back up, the seventh woman on the team.

She wasn’t truly up to the skill that the girls had cultivated with all the focus and dedication of Mahid men, but sitting on the bench supporting them made her feel good. It was so unlikely for the 'mysterious seventh Mahid woman' to be the proper and decorous Dowager Imperatrix that no one had even been close when guessing who this new player might be.

Jorasa soared up out of the bowl and settled next to her on the bench. “Go in, 'Nesa!” She tapped the back of her glove on Inensa's shoulder.

She swooped down into the bowl, doubled braid whipping out under her helmet, thumping against her back. She found her face stretching in what charitably might be called a grin as she fitted herself into the pattern of passing and weaving and firing the disc at the goal, swooping up and back and between, ducking one disc, jumping a second, catching the third, darting between Amitza and Borasa.

She missed her first shot on goal and her second, but by the third she soared up, over the edge, feet higher than her head faster than she'd made it before and somehow clawed the air and felt the goal behind her as if it glowed. She made her shot and the fans cheered, even if it was just practice.

The team needed three more players. Four if she was truthful with herself. She knew she was the least, but Goddess Selinae it felt good. It felt good to be moving and moving so fast, stretching her muscles as hard as the precision dances hammered into her as a girl. Her self-made wind felt as though she had wings.

“'Nesa!” Coach whistled her out and she turned herself out of the practice pattern, onto the edge for several slow laps to cool down, before settling back to her place on the bench.

The coach was pressing her to allow other aitzas girls and some solas to try out for the Onyxine Razors, ad she knew she would allow it. Her father had, in effect, given over the management of the women to her.

Her father sat in the stands, up and back, to one side of her. He watched the practice, letting his bespectacled gaze slide over her as any other of the team members. She didn't do more than glance at him with the usual Mahid impassiveness.

She was shocked at how tired he looked to her. He was a very old man but he usually didn't show it so openly. A faint thread of words came to her ear from him, pitched exactly to reach her and go no further in the noisy, rumbling, cat-calling whistle filled, echoing bowl. “See me, after. You do well, First, to so stay ahead of your charges.”

“I hear,” she said, her lips barely moving, looking straight ahead. “Have you slept?”

“Irrelevant. Duty,” he said.

There is trouble enough to worry him, to keep him awake, possibly for a full night or more.

She stood up, flexing her shoulder. “Coach! Minor injury!”

“You're out, 'Nesa. Hit the cascade!”

“Yes, coach!” She gathered up her helmet and the towel she'd used and glided around to the door under the stands. No more playtime.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

671 - Muunas, All Father of the Ten Gods

For the longest time, there was only the sound of his own breathing, and the pressure of the floor against his body.  His forehead pressed on the wood and actual chill spread into his body.   

The Marble Palace, that huge pile of stone and the warren in the cliff behind, hardly ever warmed. Every time he felt himself starting to doze off, his head wanting to loll to one side, his arms and legs wanting to contract to pull him into a more comfortable position, he rose, bowed before the Presence light, shook out his arms and legs and lay down again, to renew his prayer.

There was nothing.  No answer.  Barely even a sense of the Gods. There was a faint skim of sacredness, like a whiff of incense from a censer passed through a room a bead ago. From outside he could hear Bella whine.

At last, there was a faint chime, an ancient, ancient snatch of hymn on a glass instrument… just like the one in the Temple.  The glass water pipe. Minis rose to sit, and stare up at the light. “Gods… should I ask in the Temple?  Is that what you mean?”

In the silence of the Imperial chapel, there was nothing but ghostly echoes of ritual. “Ten? Muunas help us.”  His only answer was the silence.  He rose, genuflected and carefully closed the door behind himself.

He was grievously tired, but he pulled his shirt and clout out from under Bella’s nose.  She whined at him but lifted her head and let him get the rest of his clothing.  “Come on, dog,” he said, tiredly.  “Let’s go to the Temple.”

His guard, two of the Mahid girls, were ready and waiting if he should need them and they smiled as he climbed into the litter he had to use to keep his feet off the ground across the square.  “Jorasa, Amitza… good evening.”

“It’s late, You Whose Eyes Look Very Hung Over,” Amitza said quietly.

It startled a laugh out of Minis.  “I haven’t been drinking, or smoking herb. I’ve been trying to talk to the Gods.”

Both women nodded without saying anything and took up station in front of him and behind him as the bearers lifted him up.  He trusted their training, as well as the bodyguards that his guard captain, Idiesas, had assigned him, even with the terrorist who had tried to kill him on his Ascension, the self-named ‘Unomas’, still at large in the Empire.

Once in the Temple he wouldn’t need bodyguards, though the Mahid women would go with him.  The Temple, or the Ten Gods, or both had made it pretty clear that he was – so far – Their choice when he’d been saved from a lethal dart at the moment of his anointing as Imperator.

He alighted on the upper steps of the Temple, thanked his bearers, and stood for a moment looking out over Presentation square.  Lamp lights glowed all around the perimeter and along the fountains separating the Marble palace from the square, and in every planter through the entire area.  Shade trees and fountain trees helped keep people cool and were carefully maintained despite their blocking of views.  The sun was just too brutal in Arko to have a perfectly bare stone square.  In this unseasonal heat… very much like a heat wave he remembered as a child, it was still sticky hot and thick though it was the middle of the night.

He rinsed his hands just inside the door and went to lie down before Muunas’s statue and repeat his prayers for assistance, his Mahid waiting just inside the doors, where all Imperator’s guard had waited, traditionally.  The only difference, and it was enough to make traditionalists’ heads spin was that they were female Mahid, not male. The dog curled up at Jorasa's feet, huffing that she was not allowed to follow Minis into the sanctuary.

The gold tiles under my hands are even more cool than in the Marble Palace.  Muunas, All Father of the Ten, Husband, Creator, give leave for the Artificer and the Vivisectionist to help us.  We are in trouble. Help us.