Previously: Soshay has finished her initiation and has been welcomed into the Temple of Twilight. Afterward, Mitlan questions her about the Unnamed God, and offers to bring Setch to the Temple of Twilight, but he will not allow Soshay to leave.
In the Temple of Midnight, Setch begins to understand the trepantrix and is beginning to understand how to defeat the Unnamed God.
Telamx struggles with his divided loyalties between the Gods Tzi and Tez.
In the Temple of Midnight, Setch struggled to focus. However, the trepantrix continued to flood information into her brain whenever it deemed it necessary. She continued to sip the now cold tea Huixto had brought her, grateful that at least her headache was fading. The Gray Priestess promised that the tea would help her head and not hurt the baby. It tasted mostly like ahuaca, a small purple flowering plant, and exotl bark, from the weeping river trees. Both were common enough ingredients in headache remedies and both were harmless to her baby.
Setch had been working all day, learning to master the device, rather than let it master her. The trepantrix continued to give her the same incomplete information of the Sisterhood’s ritual of slumber, but without knowing more about the ritual or the results of it, Setch had no way to gauge if it was even part of how the Unnamed One could be stopped. Every time she thought about it, the trepantrix told her, no record found.
The Ritual of Slumber was, thus far, the only ritual mentioned in the trepantrix. Simply destroying the jade chair would not destroy the Unnamed One. According to the research in her head, destruction of the artifact put them all at greater risk. The chair itself seemed to be a drain on the Unnamed One’s power. Somehow the chair kept Him from using His full powers. Free of its confines, He would become a true deity again. Setch thought that was His goal with the sacrifices Este was performing in His name. With enough blood and death, perhaps He could break the magics that bound him to the Jade Throne.
Setch knew that some of the lesser gods also resided in idols or vessels. The followers of Amma made beautiful clay vessels for their god. Amma could be freed by breaking the vessel, and they had multiple rituals a year to bind and release him. Setch pushed the information away. It was no help to her as she did not wish to free the unnamed god.
Setch opened her eyes, finding Huixto watching her. “I can stop the information once the transfer starts, but I am still struggling to keep it from constantly pouring out information based on my barest thought,” Setch said, her voice tired.
Huxito considered this, “We always allow the transfer, but we have been trained to the trepantrix as children.” She collected the empty teapot, “Rest now, and I will see if there is any news of your Priestess. We will continue later today.”
Left alone, Setch lay back on the bed, setting her head gingerly on the pillow. Her scalp still stung where it had been cut, and she was too afraid to ask whether the device could ever be removed. If I am stuck with this thing in my head forever, I may go mad. But maybe, once He is gone, the trepantrix will be silent. As she considered the prospect of forever bearing the stone in her skull, she was deluged with another flood of information. Setch clapped her hands to her head, begging for it to stop. “Zel, I need your guidance now. What am I to do with this device?”
Her words echoed in the empty room, but her only answer was more information about Zel’s relationship to the Unnamed One.
In Her early incarnation, prior to her merger with the fertility goddess of the Olmani, the deity we now name Zel was a warrior goddess. Setch saw the image of the spear becoming an ear of corn, and again saw the serpent both deities used as avatars.
“Shut up, shut up” Setch spat into the empty room. “Zel has always been. She is eternal. She was not replaced or merged with another goddess. She is.” This time, the trepantrix remained mercifully silent. Setch continued to rub her temples, cringing every time the skin stretched the incision in her scalp.
She glanced out her window, noting the sun was far closer to setting than she had realized. Setch realized that Soshay could be finishing her initiation now. She hoped the young woman had fared well in her trials, and that her god and lover was gentle with Soshay. Setch turned her attention to the last message that Soshay had sent, the hastily scrawled note that detailed Soshay’s latest prophecy.
Setch was still unsure of her conclusions regarding the prophecy. Most prophecies were open to interpretation, and while Soshay’s prophecies were the most linear of any that Setch had seen, there were still many questions it raised.
Setch believed, based on Soshay’s prophecy, that it would take more than the two of them and their gods to defeat the Unnamed One. That Tzi stood apart confused Setch. Obviously, Tzi was involved, as Setch now bore a device Her making. Setch wondered if she was now the connection to the Goddess of Midnight. The thought made her uncomfortable, as she wondered what it would mean to be connected to two deities if it made her less Zel’s servant. The four major gods of the Cetza did not allow their priests to serve any other gods. It was fine for the priests of the lesser gods to share their devotions among their many alien gods, but not for the gods of the Divided Day. To do so made one apostate, like Telmax and even Chacon. Both had rejected the sworn duties to their gods. She did not know if Chacon still honored Zel, but Telmax claimed that he honored both Tzi and Tez.
“Soshay,” Setch whispered looking at the setting sun, “I need your help. If we could manufacture the ritual for our alliance, maybe together we can decipher the information on this accursed trepantrix.”
A light tap on her door interrupted Setch’s thoughts. “Come in.” She called.
Teo entered carrying a tray. The warm scent of flatbread filled the room. Setch heard her stomach rumble. Teo set the tray down, “I apologize for not coming sooner. I have forgotten how easy it is to lose track of time and our need for food when learning is involved.” She offered Setch a smile.
Setch thanked her and sat up. She looked over the food, suddenly ravenous. She began to eat.
“We have had no luck finding Drioux. I fear she has gone too deeply into hiding for even my spies to find her.” At Setch’s concerned look she continued, “I am certain she is fine, recovering from the poison, but Este has placed a price on her head too. Many of the people in the City would be happy to collect a reward for turning her in.” Teo sat in Huixto’s vacated chair. “Is there another of the Sisterhood who would know this ritual?”
Setch shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe. I was newly initiated to the Sisterhood, but it felt like Drioux was the only one who knew everything. She was the senior priestess in the Sisterhood.” Setch chewed a mouthful of bread, considering the women from the meeting. “I don’t know if any of the other Sisters would know, nor would I trust them enough to ask. I can’t be certain who may be under the Unnamed One’s control.” Setch had a nagging feeling that she was overlooking someone, someone who might know the ritual.
Teo frowned, “I will continue to search our archives, but I must be honest, I don’t have a lot of hope that we will find any more information. Your Sisterhood is very secretive.”
Setch thought of the old woman from the marketplace. She had known about the power of Zel’s tear and had given Setch the other stone. As she pictured the old woman, she received another flood of information.
Anacoana, exiled priestess of Tzi. Setch was overwhelmed with the flood of information. Anacoana had once used the Throne. She had created the trepantrix that Setch now bore. The information sped up, flooding Setch’s thoughts. She closed her eyes against the onslaught. A much younger Anacoana used the chair, testing its powers and limits, but always very carefully. Years of Anacoana’s research into thousands of Suyu legends began to fill Setch’s head. Stop, she thought, not this. Tell me more about Anacoana. Her mind cleared for a moment and then a new flow of information began.
Anacoana growing more confident in her ability to use the chair. Anacoana’s thoughts about the chair, her guesses about the source of its magic. Images of Anacoana using the throne during the Century War which made Setch cringe to see the decimated cities of the Lakiti. Cities burned with fires so hot all of the very stones of their temples had melted. Gaps appeared in the record. To Setch’s mind, these gaps were black spaces, but not simple darkness, a consuming blackness that seemed almost alive. As if the echo of the darkness within the trepantrix was a living entity. Something that could hurt me, she thought pulling away from the darkness until the trepantrix gave her more information. But all the most recent records were disjointed, punctuated with the living darkness. Anacoana crying over the body of a young man. Anacoana pregnant. More blackness. Anacoana feverishly researching the legends again. Anacoana wearing a crown of the blue stones called Zel’s tears. Images, that Setch could not understand. Candles, incense, chanting, clearly some sort of ritual. The blue stone crown shattering. The darkness, some inky black entity oozing from the chair. Anacoana and someone else, a woman, who Setch could not see standing together. It reminded Setch of her allegiance ritual with Soshay. More images of a ritual, but not enough for Setch to piece it together. Finally the chair, quiescent, but not destroyed. Anacoana standing before a council of Tzi’s servants. Anacoana entering a room almost identical to the one used when Setch received the trepantrix. Then nothing, not the living void, just a peaceful nothingness.
Setch took a deep breath, her heart hammering. She now knew that Anacoana was present at the ritual that quieted the Unnamed One. What Setch did not know, was what ritual Anacoana and the other priestess had performed. Setch searched the images in her brain. She grew more and more certain that the priestess with Anacoana was from the Temple of Dawn, her own temple.
Setch rubbed at her temples and blinked to clear her eyes. Throughout the entire process, Teo had sat patiently in her chair.
“This is what you do when that blank look crosses your faces?” Setch asked.
Toe nodded gravely, “And you now know our greatest secret. We are entrusting you to keep our secret Setch.”
Setch nodded, suddenly have a far greater understanding of Tzi’s appeal to her followers. “Teo, the priestess Anacoana, what happened to her?” Setch noticed that Teo stiffened at the name.
Teo made a warding gesture, “Never say her name within our walls, Setch.” Teo paused and took a calming breath, “You wear her trepantrix. She was the first to use the artifact, and she is responsible for the Unnamed One’s awakening now. She was cast out for her crimes and condemned for the remainder of her life to seek Tzi’s forgiveness.”
Setch considered how much she should tell Teo about Anacoana’s help. Teo has been honest with me. She has shared the most sacred mystery of her temple with me and asked nothing in return. Can I trust her, can I afford not to? “What if she can’t receive forgiveness?”
Teo offered a cold smile, “She will cease to be.”
Setch frowned. “I don’t understand, cease to be?”
“When she dies, her soul will not descend to the underworld. It will simply cease to exist.”
Setch shuddered at the thought. Tez may be a frightening deity, but the underworld allowed all Cetza a continued existence with their loved ones, at least for some. The underworld also contained places of redemption for those that sinned in during their lifetime. “I think we need her help.”
Teo blanched and began to interrupt, but Setch continued. “Hear me out. She completed a ritual with another woman or maybe multiple women, but the record is incomplete. Something, maybe the Unnamed One, damaged the information. It is like reading a codex where every other line is missing.” Setch shook her head, “I cannot reconstruct what they did in the ritual.”
Teo grimaced. “She can’t come here. Because of her exile, it is death for her to even walk upon the stones of our plaza.” Teo thought a moment, “Who was the other woman?”
Setch shrugged. “I can’t see her face, But I believe she came from the Temple of Dawn.” She paused, “There was a crown, a headdress made from Zel’s tears.” Setch described the object in detail, and let the record play over in her thoughts again, becoming more certain that there were others present at the ritual. The scent of Itz’s incense and the rattles of goddess Tamait were embedded in the memory as well. Setch said as much, understanding now why Este and her followers had begun their campaigns against the lesser gods. If they had played a part in quieting the Unnamed One, He would want them far away from the City of the Jungle.
Teo frowned. “It does explain why they worked so quickly to chase them from the city. I have no contacts in their temples, so I have no way to find any of their priesthood.” Then her face went blank. After a few seconds, she smiled. “However, the crown you speak of is an object that should still be within our possession. I will send someone to search for it.”
Setch closed her eyes a moment, considering their options. She was not sure if the feeling that time was running out was real, or only a consequence of Huixto’s insistence that they needed to hurry. She knew where she could find Coliu, priestess of Itz, but she feared giving anyone else that information. Would sending Tzi’s priestesses to her allow the warriors of Mat to follow? There was one priestess who she was willing to endanger, and that willingness shocked her; nevertheless, she said, “there may be another priestess who would know about the ritual. The apostate Chacon.”
Teo blinked, “The warrior woman who serves Mat, in the Temple of Noon?”
Setch nodded. “Drioux mentioned that Chacon started the process of joining the Sisterhood, but never completed her initiation. But I was a novice with her, and I know that she has great skill at ferreting out information. If anyone would have found the Sisterhood’s secrets, it is she.”
“Would she help us?” Teo asked. “From Soshay’s last vision, it appears that Mat will not be part of this battle.”
Setch shrugged. “I don’t know if she will, but I know that our choices can always change the visions the gods send. The future is always mutable. Maybe she will help us, or maybe she will sell us the information we seek.”
Teo seemed to consider the suggestion. “Chacon has risen quickly within the Temple of Noon and has demonstrated great skill in far-seeing. Because of her skill, we have had little success in spying on her. I do know that yesterday, within the Temple of Noon, there was a great disturbance that involved her.”
Setch gestured for her to continue.
“The Temple of Noon had been seeking an alliance with Este, as you know. And now it seems that those negotiations have fallen apart. Chacon attended the last meeting with the priest Amox. He remained with Este, while Chacon fled and returned to the Temple of Noon.”
Setch considered this information. “Amox was Chacon’s lover, and may yet be. Many in the Temple of Dawn assumed he was the reason she left Zel’s service. Can you get word to her? See if she will meet with me here?” Setch paused, “of course, if it is alright with you to have her here?”
Teo smiled, “We would be very interested to meet Chacon. As I said, her skill as a far-seer is impressive. However, we have invited her here in the past, and she has always declined our invitation.” Teo shrugged, “It could not hurt to try again. If I may, I will send a messenger in your name to her. Do you think that would help?”
Setch frowned, “I don’t know. We were close as novices, at least I thought we were. But Chacon is…” she paused considering her words, “She is interested in power and manipulation. I wonder now if she viewed our friendship as a means to an end.” Setch glanced at Teo, “I cannot say for certain if my name would help the request, but if her lover, Amox’s, has chosen Este over her, Chacon will be interested in vengeance and that may benefit us.”
Teo nodded, “I will have an invitation sent to her. Also, we have received word from the Temple of Twilight,” Teo said.
“What did she say?”
Teo gave a small smile, “Soshay did not send the message, the High Priest, Mitlan, has offered you sanctuary within the Temple of Twilight. He says the True Bride requests an audience with you.”
Setch considered the request. Leaving the Temple of Midnight was a risky endeavor. The guards from the Temple of Dawn still prowled the borders of Tzi’s temple waiting for her to leave. Even with a retinue of guards, Setch was uncertain of leaving and arriving anywhere safely. “I don’t wish to become trapped in the Temple of Twilight, and I need Huixto’s help to continue to master the trepantrix.” She looked at Teo, “I assume that Mitlan will not allow the True Bride to come here?”
Teo laughed, “No, he does want her exposed to our witchcraft.”
Setch considered this, and the trepantrix flickered back to the image of the ritual. Setch realized that the room the ritual took place was not part of any temple she had seen. Setch narrowed her eyes and the picture grew bigger, clearer. The walls were adobe plaster and behind the priestesses, Setch could see a small kitchen. “Can you arrange a place where all of us can meet, somewhere safe from Este, but outside of the Temple of Midnight?”
“Your second request will be more difficult to arrange.” She considered a moment, “Yes, I think I can arrange a place. It will be easy enough to get you there, and I can have you accompanied by our witches. But why do you seek to leave?”
“Because the ritual requires the cooperation of more than one god. To choose a temple, would limit the involvement of the other gods.” She paused, waiting for the trepantrix to send her more information. It simply showed her the image of the ritual again. “At least I think that is right.” She paused, “Can you help me to get to this neutral location safely, I have no money, but once I restore my temple, I can repay you for hiring any guards.”
Teo smiled, “We don’t need guards. Have you seen any here?” She waited until Setch shook her head, before continuing. “We train a number of our priests in special magic, the magics of war and battle, and they are our guards. It guarantees their loyalty.”
Setch nodded realizing the potential advantage that gave the Temple of Midnight. They were not forced to rely on soldiers, as the Temple of Dawn did, nor did they have to pay guards. And more importantly, Setch realized, Tzi’s servants could always have guards with them. No one ever questioned multiple priests traveling together. It would even allow them to have a guard present at another temple.
“I can have a safe location prepared for you in a few hours, is that soon enough?”
Setch smiled, “If Chacon will agree to meet with me, and if you can get Soshay out of the Temple of Twilight.”
Teo’s jaw dropped. “You expect me to get the Soshay out of the Temple of Twilight, by tonight?”
Setch shook her head, “Soshay can get herself out and find her own protection I’d wager. I only need you to send her a message, something she will receive faster than a note. You could talk to her when she appeared in spirit, can you send a spirit to her?”
Teo nodded slowly. “You ask a dangerous favor, Setch. To travel the otherworld now is triply dangerous. The Unnamed One watches it always.” Teo’s face grew blank for a moment. “It will take more time. Soshay has only just finished her initiation. I will need to find her alone. I should be able to arrange everything by midnight.” She then smiled, “Maybe Tzi’s hour is more appropriate anyway.”
Setch nodded, “Then tell Huixto she does not need to return.” Setch rubbed her aching back. “I am going to try and sleep before the meeting, but please wake me as soon as you hear from Chacon.”
Teo nodded. “You seem to have far more planned than just a meeting, Setch.”
Setch realized that the high priestess was correct. “The information is slowly coming together. Huitxo has insisted that our time is growing short, and I believe that she is correct.” The trepantrix started to spew information again, and Setch was beginning to understand. It was giving her an astrological calendar. The placement of the stars told Setch that this was the right season, and there was no moon. Setch knew that tonight was the first night of the new moon. “If we meet tonight, we will have two days to plan the ritual, or we will have to wait a month.” She closed her eyes, looking at the calendar again, “the ritual must be performed during the new moon and in this season.” Setch opened her eyes but was still seeing the trepantrix information.
Once the Unnamed One begins taking human sacrifice, His power will grow exponentially. Once He has enough power, He can break the binding that holds Him to the Throne.
Setch shuddered. “The Unnamed One’s power is growing too quickly.” She said recalling the information that Este had already given the Unnamed at least one sacrifice. “We might have another month to research the ritual, but I fear that will be too late. Once He is free of the throne, it will be over.”
Teo nodded slowly. “Then eat and rest,” she gestured toward the long-forgotten food. “I will send word to Chacon and I will go to Soshay myself.” She paused, “I will tell Soshay everything you have learned, and we will see if she can find a way out of the Temple of Twilight tonight.”
Setch smiled, “I have no doubt that she can get out, whether Mitlan wills it or no. I only hope that she will defy his will and leave.” She paused, “and please send some you trust to the priesthood of Itz.” Before Teo could interrupt, Setch told her where she could find Coliu. “Send for her in my name; she will come even at risk of her life.”
Teo stood, “I hope that she will. Mitlan is overly concerned with protecting her for his own political gain. The Imperator is very interested in her and has been pressuring Mitlan to bring her to the City of the Lake.” Teo sighed, “He cannot afford to risk losing her now.”
Setch shrugged, “Mitlan can worry over politics, but if She rises, there will be no Empire left. There will be no people left. Soshay’s safety will not matter then.”
Teo laughed, “If I could tell him that it may make things simpler.
From his message, I think he knows very little of the Unnamed One. I don’t know if that is Tenoch’s doing, or Mitlan’s disinterest.” She gestured toward the food again, “Eat Setch, you will need your strength. I will send Ixchell with any news.”
Setch nodded and absently picked at the food. Her thoughts were busy jumping between the trepantrix information and her own thoughts. She realized that if Teo was successful in gathering everyone tonight, that it was very likely that the Unnamed One could be defeated.