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.