Lixand eased his way into a fold of the pourstone holding the gigantic pieces of glass that made up the image of the Green Dragon. His clothing was a dusty charcoal gray, with spots of darker black and paler gray to help hide the outline of a person.
Matta was wearing similar, over on the cliff on the other side of this plaza, and Matthas was an okas woodcutter/charcoal burner rounded up by Prophet-led to hear the latest sermon. He was down there in the middle of the plaza with almost a hundred other ‘new’ people. The Prophet’s people all wore robes quartered with crudely painted sigils of the Four Gods they swore were the only real gods. Muunas’s Dragons, Aras’s rearing Warhorse, Mikas’s Ass’s head, and a Stag for the fourth God that seemed to be a mishmash of Dimae and Imbas and Oas.
This was the closest they’d managed to get, without being taken in. There was an Aras priest who was finding people who were somehow shaking free of the Prophet’s spell and getting them out. Turenas wasn’t an attractive man in any way and especially since he’d taken a sword to the face in the last war, but his rage at what the Prophet was spewing, made Lixand really glad he was on their side. He’d been a good friend of the Assemblyman who’d been killed, and his family and his devotion to the vote was so fierce he sounded like a Yeoli. He’d been actively kidnapping the children out who were so ensnared that they’d bite and scratch and howl if you interfered with them getting to ‘THEIR’ Prophet.
Some of those children were just now starting to ‘wake up’ and describe it like it was a dream, a nightmare, a bad, bad herb trip, an illness. Some of the younger ones were shivering and vomiting like addicts coming off a drug and Matta got that look on her face, reminded of how Grandmama had died because of DD, what people were calling dreamdust now.
Lixand hadn’t managed to tell his mother that he had manrauq now. He’d thought that he’d blurt it out immediately, given the years he’d struggled to aquire just a little bit, but it just never came up. And she had no reason to ask him flat out ‘So, do you have power now?’ It was just something they never talked about anymore. So he hadn’t said anything.
The smoke from the fires below swirled up and he quietly strengthened his magical filter mask. The great bowls and alcohol lamps were lit, but they were running low on fuel and made up the lack with fire-bowls that smoked horribly because they were burning mostly green wood.
His position perfectly overlooked the crude pulpit below, built out of the fences of what had been the stock market and covered with what looked like table cloths embroidered by his followers. And enormous white bird, enwrapped in flames, was embroidered right across the front and Lixand found it more than a little disturbing. The women were being forced into veils like Hyrene men and made to lie down for the men, embroider and cook and little else.
A note from the city had said that the embroidery might be a message, like a plea, hoping someone would see and understand; a cry for help from the women. The handful of veiled women all stood by the road, as far from the Prophet as they could be and still be in the square.
The smoke shifted and wreathed around him and he was suddenly light headed but strengthened his filter again so that he wouldn’t cough and reveal himself. Someone started beating a shield with a hammer, and the Prophet’s acolytes came out to stoke the fires and then stand near the four men who filed out and stood under the raised pulpit.
There they are. Fehinnans. Each one wearing one ‘God’ symbol. Brown as Niah with rule-straight black hair, mostly covered with a white headdress that looks vaguely like the formal draperies of the Fenjitzae.
They’re trying hard to fit in… in the aftermath of the war and I bet they’re surprised how fast things went from chaos to rebuilt – There’s the Prophet himself. Great Bear he’s beautiful… but, is he drunk? Or just stoned?
The Prophet stepped out and climbed up to his pulpit, majestically slow, either that or being careful not to fall flat on his face. His brilliant spun-gold hair fluttered in the evening breeze, brushed till it shone like a fine horse’s coat, brushed back and up away from his face like a lion’s mane, floating down to his hips.
He was beautiful as the sculptures in the Marble Palace, with the chiseled, rugged features of the old Aan line. The kind of symmetry echoed in Matthas Mahid’s features as if he were a blurry copy of the Prophet. He was shockingly tall, with gold vestements that made it hard to look at him straight for very long and he held a slender, ornate staff, with a golden dragon wound around the top of it. “My children!” he boomed, holding out his staff and his other hand… his gloves were pristine white… in benediction over the people in the square.
His voice was as beautiful as the rest of him, like velvet, like chocolate, like cream. “Know that the Holy Gods love you! Know that the Blessed Four Gods hold this world in their ungloved hands!”
Lixand put his fingers in his ears because if he listened to that voice much longer he might start believing it himself. He looked for Matthas who was in the middle of the crowd, jaw hanging like a yokel presented with more gold vestements than he’d ever seen in his life. Matthas stood still in the middle but he wasn’t acting anymore, he was standing, head down, hands clasped on his head as if to keep it from splitting in half, rocking back and forth from foot to foot.
Aw, Honey-giving One, no! You just had to listen and get out, you big fool. You didn’t have to pretend to be converting! In and out. Get the information we need to take this guy out and… oh piss.
Lixand caught motion on the other cliff, where Matta was and saw her slide down the cliff, openly. He flung a whisper, a wish, a desperate plea. “Matta, stop!”
In the dark, over the lit plaza, he could barely see her pale face turned toward him, jerky, fighting his silvery cords wrapped around her. He nearly panicked then, feeling like a spider who had caught a snake or a raptor in its web, this threat looming up, like claws to cut his hold on his mother. His voice was a faint hiss. “Matta, no! No!”