Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 19

The Ashuranas' great palace of Mount Qaf had stood for centuries, molded into the image of the dynasty's founder Ahrimanes.  It was a palace that made a statement.  Several statements, really, including how phenomally unpleasant the Ashuranas were.  But despite that, there was something undeniably impressive about the great structure, especially if one saw it from a birds' eye view.

Of course, on this day, that view would involve watching that great structure which had stood for centuries collapsing into rubble.  Which, it had to be said, was somewhat novel, even if it was also somewhat horrible.

If those hypothetical birds that were viewing the palace looked somewhat near it, they might see a small figure walking away.  But it is doubtful they would notice it, being birds.  And absolutely certain they wouldn't being hypothetical.  Few birds flew around Mount Qaf, as the Ashuranas had used spells to make them flee for centuries.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 18

Jovian was lying on the ground when he came to, a pair of hands on his back.  "Are you all right, sir?" came a voice.  "Can you hear me?"

He glanced up to see one of the young women who'd been standing in the hall of the Cathedral.  "I... yes, miss.  Thank you."  He moved to right himself, the young woman demonstrating a surprising strength as she helped him stand, especially for someone as slender as she was. 

"Is he all right now?" asked a woman sitting cross-legged nearby.  Jovian realized it was the other young woman from the Cathedral.

"I... I am fine now," said Jovian.  "I... where is your family?"

"Our family?," asked the sitting woman, clearly confused.

"You know who he means," said the woman at his side.  "They're taking care of other things," she added.  "We're helping you."

"Well, thank you," said Jovian.  "What... what happened there...?"

"We'll explain later," muttered his companion.

"You're being awfully nice to him," said the other woman.  "After what they did to us."

"How many times  have I told you, that wasn't him," muttered the one standing by him.  "These people don't live that long.  And they get confused about things, Ramiel."

"They drew us as boys, Ophiel!" snapped Ramiel.  "Boys!"

It occurred to Jovian that the women were not saying the names he was hearing--rather they were saying something else, but he was hearing the names of his gods when they spoke.  And that made Jovian realize that his situation was... probably a great deal worse than he'd thought.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 17

The pilgirms were on the road to Evelone, the fairest of the cities of the Concordat, famed for its tall towers and green broad ways.  The bones of numerous saints of special potence were held in its chapels--it was said a true and penitent pilgrim could shave off a thousand years of service in one of the Realms of Punishment for those not quite good enough for Heaven but not worthy of a Hell.    As such, all were in good spirits. 

"I say," noted one, "I believe it is Squire Robert's turn to tell a tale."

"Indeed," said a woman, "I told the last one."

Robert smiled tolerantly.  "Very well.  A story from my village."  He cleared his throat.  "Long ago, there lived a young woman of great virtue and surpassing beauty.  Her name was..."

However he never did get around to saying her name, for suddenly he and his fellows had pitched themselves on the ground, screaming in pain.  Shortly after they were still and dead, as were the animals that had been carrying their things.

The road to Evelone was silent and still.  Not even a bird chirped.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 16

Jovian took  a deep breath.  "What is the meaning of all this?  Why have you chosen to reveal all this now?"

"Because as I said, the time of our service is coming to an end," said the Grandmaster.  "The Faith has done all it can for us, and so we cast it aside.  We cast it aside vigorously."

Jovian stared at the corpse and wondered, briefly, what would happen if he were to rush it and batter it into pieces.  Somehow, he thought it would prove both ineffectual and quite unpleasant for him.  "We sheltered your order for centuries, even when there were cries to disband it."

"Yes, because you thought it was useful," snapped the Grandmaster.  "You knew us to be tainted, but you let any scruples be cast aside.  We have known that the pit beckons for us, but you, you thought that you could touch pitch and not be defiled!  Well, the cost has come due, fools!  This old world shall burn, and you in it, to give birth to a new one, a pure one!  And you shall be the fuel that keeps it lit!"

"This is madness," muttered Jovian.

"Oh, no," came that terrible voice.  "No, this is a plan reaching fulfillment.  Throughout the cities of the Concordat, in all the Towers dwelt in by the Stylites, we work a great spell, laying on spells we have woven for centuries.  It happens now.  Now when your great mass of vanity and falseness is destroyed to make way for the true faith..."

"You... you blaspheme," muttered Jovian stepping away from the palanquin.  "You blaspheme and I will not..."

"The truth is not blasphemy, Flamens," said the Grandmaster.

And then he felt it, a cold, choking, moving thing as if the world were submergered in water.  He saw that little family staring at him piteously, and he moved before them, shouting, "I abjure you, I defy you, in the name of the Seven I dismiss you!"  Around him there was a chaos, people falling to the floor writhing and he saw the other Flamens on their thrones clawing at their own throats.    He chanted as long as he could and then he stopped.

The Cathedral was silent.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 15

Jovian considered his response.  Glancing over to the side of the chamber, he saw that the two young women who had earlier been staring at the murals had been joined by what appeared to be some family members.  They seemed to stare at him now, in... hope?  Anticipation?  Fear?  He could not tell.

"Why have you done all this, Grandmaster?" asked Jovian at length.

"I do not understand," came the voice.

"The war," Jovian replied.  "All the advice you have given us on it.  The support for Amfortas."

"Oh.  That."  The voice's tones were almost languid.  "To serve the Holy Light."

Jovian's mouth felt dry.  "That... is the mission of this Church, Grandmaster, and if you will pardon me, you have chosen a..."

"The Faith thinks more of serving its own pleasure and ease than the Holy Light," said the voice.  "We served you as you were the... best we could do, for a while.  But that time is coming to an end."

There was a worried gasp at that.  Priscus stood up.  "Now see here, I will not have me and my be insulted..."

"Sit down, old man," snapped the voice.  Priscus fell back to the Owl Seat, with a loud grunt. 

Jovian took a deep breath.  "That was uncalled for.  He is the Flamens Carmentalis and he deserves respect."

"He shall get what he deserves soon," said the Grandmaster. "You all shall.  All you tedious old fools."

"I will not be insulted by a corpse," snapped Jovian.

"You will be insulted by the dust you tread on, when I am finished," said the Grandmaster.

The apprehension Jovian was feeling steadily increased.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 14

Jovian stared at the withered corpse before him, eyes wide in shock.  In the background he could hear his fellows gasping, and someone--he would wager Philaster--trying to suppress an urge to vomit.  He turned to the acolytes.  "What is the meaning of this... morbid jest?" 

The acolytes remained rigid, showing no reaction. 

Jovian frowned.  "Listen, do not forget the authority I wield.  I can have all of you sentenced to holes so dark even you would squirm in them, and for things far less grave than this.  Why are you doing this... grotesque imposture?  And... which of you is doing the voice?"

A sinister wave of laughter rolled through the room.  To Jovian's shock it sounded like the Grandmaster's voice.  "Oh, Flamens Dialis, you are mistaken.  There is no jest.  And no imposture.  I sit before you, Grandmaster of the Tower."  There was a pause.  "I would move but it is... mmm, difficult for me now.  Still..."

Suddenly the corpse's arms shot up briefly and then lowered deliberately.   "There.  Is that a sufficient demonstration of the truth?"

"Not... not particularly," said Jovian.  He found himself regarding those rigid acolytes with a new horror.  "But somehow, I believe you."

"Very wise, Flamens Dialis.  Very wise."  Jovian almost swore the corpse's head seemed to recline, and yet after a moment he could not be certain that it was not merely a trick of his mind.  "Now then, shall we continue our conversation?"

Jovian gulped then nodded.  "Of course, Grandmaster.  Of course."

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Ways of Heaven and of Earth--Part 13

The Stylite Acolytes shuffled in, bearing the black palanquin of the Grandmaster on their shoulders.  They walked slowly to the center  of the chamber, and set it down.  They then took a few paces away from it, then stopped, and stood, perfectly rigid.

"I am here," came the voice of the Grandmaster from the palanquin.

Jovian blinked at this.  "Will you not come out, so we may speak face to face?" he asked.

"The... light distresses me, oh Flamens Dialis," responded the Grandmaster.  "My eyes are weak.  And my health, these days is poor.  I have been the Grandmaster of my order for a long, long time."

"Then I apologize for distressing you," said Jovian, his tone curt, "but the Synod has many questions we need answered."

"You are the Synod, the speakers for the Gods Who Are," said the Grandmaster.  "Ask and I shall answer, as best I can."

Jovian raised an eyebrow at that.  "Very well then.  Do you have an explanation for why the war has gone the way it has?  When we have followed the advice of your order--and you especially--the entire time?"

"Often the Seven seek to test faith..." replied the Grandmaster

"I do not lack faith in the Seven," replied Jovian.  "I lack faith in you."  He leaned forward.  "Or do you claim that they are one and the same now?"

"That would be blasphemy, Flamens Dialis," said the Grandmaster quietly.  "I am offended you would even  consider such a charge."  There was an awkward silence.  "Our arts are not exact, it must be said..."

"And yet you ask us to keep following them," said Jovian.

There was another awkward silence.  "I am old, Flamens Dialis.  Old and tired.  My greatest longing is to bring my glorious service to the Holy Light to an end."

Jovian stood to his feet.  "That is not a comforting answer.  Indeed, it is barely an answer at all."  He marched down the stairs from the Peacock Seat.  The other Flamens were staring awkwardly as he approached the Grandmaster's palanquin. 

"What are you doing?" came the Grandmaster's voice, which Jovian could not help but think seemed to sound no closer now than it had when he had been seated on his throne.

"I would look on the face of the man I have relied on for this," said Jovian.  The Acolytes moved before the palanquin.  "Stand back.  I am the voice of the Sun, highest of the low in the Holy Light.  If you serve the Faith, you serve it in obedience to me."

The Acolytes remained still for a while.  "Let him pass," said the Grandmaster.  "He has claimed his right.  Let him enjoy it."   As the Acolytes stepped aside, Jovian moved forward towards the palanquin.  Taking a great breath, he brought his hands to the curtains and spread them.