The High Priestess pulled herself off the altar slowly. Zoar ignored the sneering shade hovering over her quivering body, its wicked grin bloodthirsty as it starred at the girls. The High Priestess stood hunched with her hair covering her face still, she walked around dragging her nails on the stone surface. She thrust her chin upward taking in a deep breath as if smelling a delicious meal.
“We are pleased you decided to remain obedient to the Reckoning, unlike the other,” she picked at her teeth, projecting the obscene thought that she may not have just killed the girl.
The Devouts began chanting louder, “You have reached the final trial, and it is under my personal inspection that the heir to Vald’s throne will be revealed.”
Zoar determined herself to stay calm, her heart resisting the command as it beat frantically in her chest. She was trying to avoid looking at the dark one over the High Priestess, but couldn’t seem to avoid it without completely facing away from her.
“You know what it is, that which gives you the right to rule, the Seer’s Sight,” she hissed now circling the girls.
“I will ask you simply tonight, do you hear those who speak for our Queen? Do you see them?” she let out a wicked laugh that pierced the winds and chanting for a moment. “They truly are beautiful you know? Pure and glorified in Her.”
They said nothing but kept their eyes averted.
“I do not wish to keep the Ceremony of Anointing any longer, so,” the High Priestess lingered in front of the girl furthest Zoar, “Do you see them?”
A quiet, “No.”
The shade hissed and lashed out inches from the girls face, no reaction.
Again. Again, again the same response. Then she stood in front of the girl just before Zoar.
“Have you been graced with seeing their many faces?” The High Priestess’ voice a shuddering whisper as she leaned in nearly touching the other girl.
The girl hesitated, “I- I have High Priestess.”
The High Priestess froze for half a second, she lies, “LIAR!” she screeched.
Before Zoar had registered what happened next, the High Priestess pierced the girl in the gut then pushed her to the ground. She was now standing square with Zoar, dagger dripping blood in her right hand.
“And you? Do you see our Grace’s messengers?”
Zoar hesitated, “I, do not High Priestess,” her expression was somber as they made eye contact.
The High Priestess started to stand up straight, she lies priestess.
She leaned back down into Zoar’s face, “You lie little one, to what end do you lie?”
The devil hovering over the High Priestess let out a shivering screech, the others over each Devout in the room returned in kind. Zoar stayed silent, eyes cast down.
“It is irrelevant. Leave us!”she screamed at the other girls who promptly left the tent. “We will work out any issues you have later, now we celebrate!”
She grabbed Zoar’s arm and pulled her towards the entrance of the tent, “You will lead us into our reign over Fray,” she whispered just before thrusting her out of the tent.
The light blinded Zoar, and the eruption of sound from those waiting outside nearly deafened her. She could feel the High Priestess raise their hands into the air as the masses grew louder. As her sight returned to her she could see the faces of hundreds of people, looking to her like a pack of wild animals looking for an alpha for the pride. Suddenly the only feeling that remained in her blood drained face was the desire to flee their hungry eyes.
“The eyes of this child have been opened by Vald, how faithful is our Queen?!” the crowd roared again. “Prepare the celebration, the Anointing will be tomorrow at sunrise!”
Zoar felt herself growing numb. A nightmare that couldn’t be escaped was unfolding in front of her. Her fate was sealing.
She would’ve collapsed had the High Priestess not been holding her. She had never wanted this, never asked to become the woman who was next to her. The shear proximity to her was detestable to Zoar. There hadn’t been a moment to consider what was right or wrong, but a moral compass was present, and it was clear on what end sat the High Priestess. Not where Zoar wanted to be.
Yet, her plan had unraveled. Somehow the evil she so feared knew her deceit and there was no fleeing the hundreds of eyes that gaped at her now, or ever.
Zoar was a vapor, resting over her own body. Distant as if watching every moment from the outside, she was vacant of emotion, only a dull ache of awe remained. The reality of how things had turned so poorly.
The feast had begun. The Velna didn’t often eat, the only general exception was during a celebration or some festivities. It was something that made the tribe so notorious; they could simply draw out the life and feast on it. There was no need to kill for other than sport and sacrifice to their goddess. Direct contact could allow one to leech the life out of their victim. This is why it was easy to track the tribe’s course, or any rogues, because they left behind a barren wasteland of death and decay. Once the land they occupied had been thoroughly stripped they would move on.
Tonight they ate. In preparation for the Reckoning to conclude, they had capture what they could of the outside inhabitants. Wild gazelle from the plains, rabbits, lizards, birds, some still alive. Zoar sat next to the High Priestess at an elevated table behind the stone altar. The altar grew ever more interesting as the night went on. A nod would suffice for the evening when someone spoke to her, while her vacant eyes were tracing every detail of the stone and carvings. It sat completely solid, a trapezoid of etched white stone, stained with what blood would not wash with water. The imagery along the sides depicted the eyes being opened of women, and them going forth claiming the land as their throne under their goddess.
When the altar had given up it’s every niche and crevice, Zoar conceded to stare out into the thick Miasma. It hid any scenery still left in the dying sunlight, as well as the people who devoured and danced in the distance. One of the signs of the times, a world crying out. But there was nothing Zoar could do, she would be crying out if there was any hope left in her heart. She looked down at the food without a single desire inside her to enjoy the flavors and nuances of eating.
You must eat. That voice returned, the only thing that hadn’t abandoned her. She was surprised. There is no reason to eat, she thought. Perhaps she would wither away, or throw herself upon the angular corners of the alter she; her eyes returned to it. Though falling on the spear in her tent would be a quicker death. You must eat.
The voice would’ve annoyed her, but being purged of emotion tonight, she simply obeyed the voice. She bit off a chunk of cold meat and chewed it. The High Priestess leaned over and spoke to her, but nothing sunk in.
The thoughts of actually being the next High Priestess wandered in. The fright of having one of those devils hover over her like most in the tribe, of becoming wicked and unpredictable feared by all and loved by none, the thought of working in the ways of Vald all caused the taste of bile to fill her mouth.
Reprieve did finally come. Zoar’s feet reached the outside of her small tent, probably for the last time before she resided in the tent of the High Priestess. She collapsed on her small pile of pelts. With tears in her eyes she cried out in silence to die in her sleep, she couldn’t take her own life, but asked for a cowards way out. With all that was within her she pleaded, pleaded not knowing if there was anyone who listened, pleaded with the man of light, even pleaded with Vald if she were out there. She pleaded until sleep took her.
Vivid dreams painted a landscape. A withered hand, charred and painted in ash, she knew to be the High Priestess’, washed over the land. Beneath it the Miasma swallowed up the whole of Fray, the land wasted away. Then there was another hand, the withered one was cast away from the earth and in its place Zoar’s hand trailed against the earth. Life sprung from the death, trees and flowers, wildlife returned, men and women pulled their decaying bodies off the ground and were restored.
I have a plan for you, the voice echoed.
“But, I am undone,” hopelessness permeated her response.
I am the Finisher, and I have more for you.
Zoar was silent, she could only listen to the voice’s melodic dialogue.
I will break your chains… then you will go and do the same.
The overwhelming sensation of emotion and tears flooded her subconscious. She felt herself being unbound, her chains being broken, the locks sundered.
I will put them into a deep sleep. I am Faithful. There is one you are to take with you. One who is dear to me. Take him and flee.
“Where do I go?”
You must head east, to the center of the land.
“Who are you?”
I am myself.
The presence left. In it’s place a falling sensation overtook her, sky billowed past her as she neared Fray’s surface.
Just as she connected she jerked out of sleep. Sitting upright, Zoar could only think of one thing to do; praise the one who is himself, the man clothed in light. Hope was restored, dread cast off like shackles relieved of her. Tears stained her dirty cheeks as she quietly praised the one who freed her.
There was more though, she was not yet free of those around her. I am Faithful, she remembered.