The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XLVI - The Yeshuel Returned

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

Muscles sore and dirt lodged beneath nearly every scale, Copernicus didn’t even have the energy for his favourite past-time. The three-hundred pound lizard reclined in one of the sturdier seats at the Deaf Mule and watched as two of the other patrons monopolized the pool table. It was just as well he was too exhausted to play; his pool table had been destroyed in the fire that consumed the original Deaf Mule. Its replacement was good, but it didn’t have the same kinks he’d grown accustomed to.

Even the Deaf Mule – fully rebuilt and once again the most popular destination for Keepers in need of a good meal, drink, and friendship – wasn’t quite the same. But that was not the fault of the builders. What Copernicus looked for was not fashioned from wood and tar, but from flesh and bone. Too many old friends had lost their lives in the assault, while others were gone from Metamor to live elsewhere in the Valley, or had left the Valley entirely!

But that was a part of life, the lizard reflected. Times change, and the old moved aside to make way for the new. Maybe one day he’d even let someone beat him at pool; the Keep would need a new champion at some point!

He chuckled under his breath and stretched in his seat. A shadow passed him on his right, and he was about to order a drink when the familiar scent of dirty beaver hit him. The large rodent crashed into a seat opposite Copernicus and let his head fall on the table. Grinning, the lizard studied the red and black plaid beaver’s torn and muddied tunic. He’d thought the poor fellow had gone to the baths, but here he was, just as filthy as when Cope had last seen him struggling through the city’s gates.

“Too dirty for the baths,” his companion muttered into the table.

“Too dirty?” Copernicus chuckled at that, then stretched again to loosen his sore muscles. “I’ve never heard them say anyone is too dirty to bathe.”

“Not too dirty to bathe, to dirty to bathe in the public baths. They told me to jump in the river.” Michael rolled his head to one side and stared at the lizard irritably. “You stink of mud too.”

“Aye,” he agreed amiably. Seeing Michael so soon after returning from their somewhat disastrous patrol brightened his mood. “I’ll sponge off later; the baths are too hot for me right now. Though a good rock in the sun would be quite nice!”

“You are in far too pleasant a mood for somebody who a few hours ago was almost buried alive!”

Copernicus shrugged. “It wasn’t my idea to climb the defile so soon after a rain.”

“I thought I heard Lutins!” But the lizard just laughed. Michael groaned and closed his eyes. “I don’t think I’ve been on a more exhausting patrol, and we didn’t even get to kill anything!”

“Look at it this way: tomorrow you head back into the forest with the woodcutters.” Michael shot him a dark look. “And here I thought that would delight you. You’ve certainly bulked up in the year and a half you’ve worked with them.” And indeed he had. Copernicus could well remember the average youth Michael had been before the curse had made him a beaver. Now he regularly hoisted split trees on his shoulders; Cope didn’t dare arm wrestle him anymore!

“I want to get clean, and then get some food, and then go to bed.” Michael lifted his head and blinked wearily. “Maybe I can take some time off. If I’m desperate for money, I can let Pascal experiment on me again. As long as she doesn’t try to make me pink, I don’t much care.”

Copernicus felt her presence before he saw her. His spine tingled, and something brushed across his tail, silken smooth but with a rasp. She had scales too. “Aren’t you colourful enough already?” a decidedly feminine voice asked. The lizard turned his head and saw the voluptuous upper torso of a woman terminating in the coils of a snake carefully wound between the tables and chairs behind them. Though her remark was jocular, her expression was haunted. What was bothering her?

“Could you spare us your stealth this one time, Quiz? As you can see, we are worn from the dangers of patrolling Lutin-infested forests.” An exaggeration on Cope’s part as only a handful of Lutins remained in the Valley since the failure of their assault on Metamor last Winter’s eve. The true danger now lay from brigands, and while dangerous enough, it was no different from any other land.

The naga crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back in her coils. “Jack says you two were caught in a mud slide. I’m rather surprised you’d be so careless, Cope.”

“Tell the good castellan I’ll personally clean every piece of armour and blade we dirtied.” Copernicus straightened in his seat, heavy tail pressing down on the wood so hard it creaked. “That should be enough to keep him from spreading the story.”

“They were all your own weapons!”

“That’s how Jack will know I’m telling the truth!”

Quiz rolled her eyes. “Aye, but,” she sighed, and an expression of sadness filled her face. Both pool players were having a hard time concentrating, so captivating was every cadence of tone and glimmer of emotion. Copernicus, though long used to it, found his weariness abating. “That is not the reason I’m here.”

“What’s wrong?” the beaver asked, sitting up for the first time.

“I was delivering a message to Priestess Merai hin’Dana when a messenger bird from Glen Avery arrived. Lothanasa Raven hin’Elric journeyed there very early this morning to attempt to save the life of Ladero Matthias, Charles’s youngest son.”

“Did she?” Copernicus asked, but in his heart he knew the answer.

“Nae, the boy is dead. I told Merai I would spread the word to Charles’s friends...” Quiz lowered her eyes. “I know you never met his children...”

“I wanted to,” Copernicus replied. The news was terrible, but it left him empty. Sadness would come soon enough. “It’s been a while since Charles and I were close,” he admitted bitterly. After the rat’s wedding in January, he’d only spoken with him once, and that was during the Summer Solstice festivities. They’d played a game of pool and promised to do so more often now that Charles was returning to Metamor. And then the rat was sent off again on some mysterious errand. Thomas, Misha and the rest wouldn’t even tell him what it was about!

Copernicus returned his gaze to Quiz. “Does Misha Brightleaf know?”

She shook her head. “I was going to Long House next.”

“Let me do that. You should go to the Writer’s Guild and inform them. And Michael...”

The beaver nodded. “He’s always been a friend to me too. If you are going to Glen Avery for a funeral, then so am I.”

The lizard’s smile was faint but true. “Good. Tell the rats. They’ll want to come too.”

“I will also inform Father Hough,” Quiz added. “Charles would want that.”

The lizard and beaver rose from the table. “And if we’re lucky, Caroline will be with Misha so she can help talk sense into the maniac when he finds out.” Their laughter was real but strained.

“We should meet at Long House when we are done,” the naga suggested. They all agreed, and a moment later Quiz was gone, leaving the other two in a blink of the eye. But they were used to that too. Their weariness forgotten, Copernicus and Michael left the Deaf Mule to spread the ill news of their friend’s loss.

Nearly every seat was filled at the Bishop’s Council of Yesulam when the Questioners arrived bearing the seal of Mizrahek, Grand Questioner of the Ecclesia. The trio kept their cowls raised, a fact that elicited a few surprised murmurs amongst the assembled bishops. Why would a Questioning have brought them here? Who were they? Why would Mizrahek have sent them here? Who did they expect to find?

The Questioners moved like nightshade along the exterior walls, a blot of ink upon the gold filigree and relief work, each depicting scenes from the Canticles, and most from the life of Yahshua. In a remote corner where the light of the sun shining through high faceted windows could not reach, they took their seats. Though they were remote and blended into the shadows as if they belonged, few were the eyes that did not watch them.

Kehthaek noted the stares from the younger bishops, and the sidelong glances from the older. Those like Rott and Temasah who had been implicated by Jothay’s correspondence studied them curiously, but did not appear concerned by their presence. Many of those who had not been mentioned, or had been named as troublemakers by the dead Bishop were far more unsettled. In a few minutes, not a one of them would be sitting comfortably anymore.

He ran his fingers along the scroll case tucked inside his sleeve. Before coming, he’d checked the documents held within three times. Kehthaek was not normally given to doubting his memory, but with something as important, and as delicate as this, he needed constant reassurance. Both Felsah and Akaleth held their own documents. Every piece of evidence they had was in their possession and they were prepared to present them.

Duplicates had been made, both for their own protection and for that of the Driheli. But for this, they would need the letters Jothay had saved, and the confession written by Mizrahek.

A pair of green-liveried Yeshuel stepped through golden-arched doors near St. Kephas’s seat. Every priest rose to their feet, aside from those too old to easily stand. Behind the Yeshuel, bearing a brilliant dalmatic of gold draped over a voluminous white alb, was Patriarch Geshter. He ascended the dias and stood before the decorative chair upon whose crest perched a yew inlaid with gold and sparkling jewels.

“We gather in the name of Eli the Father, Yahshua His Son, and of the Spirit most Holy who shows us all truth.” Geshter made the sign of the yew, and then spread his hands wide. “You have been summoned to hear the testimony of the Knight Templar of the Driheli of Stuthgansk. They have laboured long and hard to capture an enemy of the Ecclesia, and now bring him before us for justice.” Geshter then sat down, and with him, all assembled sat down.

All eyes turned towards another set of doors, through which a single figure stepped. The Questioners smiled to themselves, said nothing, and watched.

Sir Czestadt did not pay too close attention to the two Yeshuel keeping an eye on him, Sir Petriz, and the masked man bound before the other knight. They did not dare reveal Kashin’s identity to the Yeshuel just yet; they were the only unknown in this drama about to unfold that Czestadt was unsure of. The Knight Templar of the Driheli did not like the uncomfortable feeling that uncertainty brought. Either they would succeed, or they would all die. Those were odds he could accept; but how he wished he knew what those odds were!

When he heard the Patriarch’s voice summoning him, he nodded to Petriz, who returned the gesture, his face rich with familiar confidence. Petriz’s faith in him had always heartened Czestadt at moments of doubt. In the past Czestadt had seen it as a sign of minor weakness on Petriz’s part. Perhaps it still was, but maybe it was Czestadt who was weak. How long had he lied to himself about Jothay’s evil?

This was not the time for such debates. Turning to the doorway, Czestadt stepped through allowing the golden light from the dome overhead to illuminate the cross of the Driheli on his tabard. He bore only a mail shirt and trousers beneath the tabard. He carried a small bundle wrapped in sackcloth in one arm, and as he walked he favoured one leg. In another week or so, he’d heal enough that he wouldn’t even need to do that.

The assembled bishops turned their gaze upon him, but he did not make eye contact with any of them. Pivoting on his booted heal, he knelt towards the Patriarch and said in his own tongue, “I, a humble servant of Eli, come before you now to speak of His will brought to fruition. For the crusade in which I was trusted has been fulfilled, your holiness.”

These words pleased Geshter, who smiled and held out his hand. Czestadt leaned forward and kissed that hand, the many rings brushing underneath his chin. “Rise my son and speak of Eli’s will. Tell us, His servants and His protectors for His Ecclesia, what you have done for Him.”

When Geshter leaned back in his seat, Czestadt stood and half turned to address the Bishop’s. He laid the bundle in the centre of the room, but did not open it. “In October of the year of Yahshua’s grace 706, Patriarch Akabaieth was slain by a man named Zagrosek, who is believed to have once belonged to the order of the Sondeckis. There were four Yeshuel who had accompanied His Holiness on his long journey to Metamor Keep. These were Iosef, Alfais, Lakaesh, and Kashin.” Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the two Yeshuel standing on either side of the Patriarch moving their lips in quiet prayer.

“Iosef, Alfais, and Lakaesh were all killed the same night as Patriarch Akabaieth. Kashin was injured, but did not die. As a Yeshuel, it was his duty to pursue the Patriarch’s killer and bring him to justice. Those brave men of Eli who give their lives in service to the Ecclesia will always know that they may be asked to lose their lives as well. But if it is within the Ecclesia’s power to bring justice to their killers, then it is Eli’s will that we do so. Kashin should be judged on how he has performed this responsibility.”

Kehthaek did not know many of the bishops, but several appeared gleeful at his words. Let them enjoy their meat; they’d learn how rotten it was soon enough. “Bishop Jothay of Eavey sent for the Driheli to find Kashin. The Patriarch’s killer had not been brought to justice. Jothay knew that Kashin was last seen heading into the forests of Åelfwood. A Yeshuel who abandons his duty is just as vile as the Patriarch’s murderer. And that is why we Driheli were summoned to Galendor, to hunt down Kashin and bring him to justice.”

Czestadt took a deep breath, glanced once at Geshter, and then turned back to the bishops. “Most of you know the Driheli’s reputation. We are the military force that maintains the Ecclesia’s presence in Stuthgansk and the surrounding plains. We are beset by enemies from all sides, enemies who would like nothing more than to throw down Ecclesia cathedrals and to trample upon Yahshua’s yew. We are knights dedicated to preserving the Ecclesia, Yahshua’s eternal promise to man. The Ecclesia’s enemies will find no solace from the Driheli. Heretics and traitors will find even less.

“Upon the plains of the Flatlands we were to hunt Kashin, and so we set sail for Marilyth. I took with me two Knight Commanders, Sir Petriz of Vasks and Sir Lech Poznan of Bydbrüszin. I and each of them had a complement of six Knight Bachelors, squires, riders, and a priest. Sir Petriz was sent northwest along the Pyralis River. Sir Poznan was sent northeast into the Steppe. Three weeks into our search, I received word that Sir Poznan was on Kashin’s trail. I sent messengers after Sir Petriz, and once he joined me, we headed east to the Vysehrad Mountains to intercept them.

“In our attempts to capture Kashin, many of my knights were killed, including Sir Poznan. But it was not Kashin who killed them, but the very same evil that had conspired to destroy Patriarch Akabaieth. Akabaieth’s murderer, Krenek Zagrosek, had dark powers never before held by a Sondecki. These dark powers were granted by an evil that wishes only to destroy the Ecclesia, and it is they who are responsible for Patriarch Akabaieth’s murder.”

Some of the bishops who had been enjoying his tirade now began to shift uncomfortably. A few of them scowled, sensing that Czestadt was heading down a path they did not like. The Driheli had expected this, and so decided it was time to truly change the atmosphere in the Council. “Despite these hardships, we were able to track Kashin back to Yesulam. We spent a few weeks searching for him, but he eluded our grasp. So, I decided to send the Driheli back to Stuthgansk, apart from myself and Sir Petriz. With so many of us here, he knew that we were looking for him. With only a few of us, he would grow careless, allowing us to find him and capture him.”

It was a lie, but he would seek forgiveness later. “And now Kashin is in our custody, and I would like to present him before you now.” Sir Petriz marched the disgraced Yeshuel inside. Kashin’s face was still covered by a mask, and his one hand was bound against his chest with a rope that looped around his neck. He couldn’t move that arm without strangling himself, or at least, that was how it was meant to appear.

Petriz forced Kashin to kneel before Czestadt. The Knight Templar took a moment to gaze at the Bishops, noting the suspense in their faces. Good. “This is Kashin, disgraced of the Yeshuel, who must be judged on how he has fulfilled his responsibility to avenge Patriarch Akabaieth’s murder.” So saying, he yanked the mask from Kashin’s head, revealing his face and that single white lock of hair. The two Yeshuel standing next to Geshter stiffened, their eyes wide in recognition. Some of the bishops grinned in triumph at seeing him humbled and a prisoner.

“So let us begin to judge him,” Czestadt added, his voice lower, allowing the tension to fade. “Kashin was meant to kill the Patriarch’s murderer. And as is tradition, he was to use the same weapon that slew his master.” Czestadt bent down and picked up the sackcloth bundle. Slowly he began to unroll it. “Akabaieth was slain with a Sathmoran blade. But it was not Sathmore who was responsible. None outside the Council and the leaders of Metamor knew of Patriarch Akabaieth’s journey. Zagrosek was told where to find him by one man who knew where Patriarch Akabaieth would be.”

He unravelled the last of the sackcloth, and revealed a short golden blade with jewels in the pommel. Czestadt smiled at it for a moment, remembering the burn he’d felt when struck by its invisible twin. His wound was no longer pink, but it still marred his face. “Kashin did not seek Zagrosek, for he was just the lackey. Instead, he sought the man who ordered Patriarch Akabaieth’s death. And Kashin has killed him.” The bishops were now clearly agitated, with some of them desperate to interrupt him. Geshter’s face was purpling in rage, but he could not move his tongue.

“The man who betrayed Akabaieth to death, as revealed in letters and in confession, was Bishop Jothay!”

The room exploded in confused shouting, just as the Questioners predicted. Czestadt heard his name condemned on many lips, some even shouting for his and Kashin’s death. Many were also crying out for proof, but their voices were closer to anger than to reason. Who would want to believe it? He hoped the Questioner’s were able to convince them more quickly than he’d been.

Geshter rapped his crozier on the dais several times to no effect. His eyes bulged angrily, an anger he was incapable of giving voice. While the shouting continued, Czestadt lowered the golden blade to the floor, setting it on Kashin’s right. The disgraced Yeshuel did not look at the blade, but he knew it was there.

After a full minute of rapping, the many shouts died and the bishops sat back down. All but a young one that appeared little older than Sir Petriz. Dark of hair with bronzed skin, he must be the new Bishop of Abaef, Temasah. The letters they possessed from him were particularly damning.

“Your holiness,” Temasah called out, fury rich in his voice. He refused to glance at the knights. “The accusation made by these barbarians is ludicrous. Bishop Jothay is a devoted man of Eli. Even now he is on a pilgrimage to Marilyth. You are addressed by charlatans! Throw them out and execute Kashin the traitor.”

Another bishop rose and shook his head. “I must disagree. It has been the tradition of the Council to investigate accusations made against its own members. While the punishment has never before been death, if what they say is true, then Kashin will be justified before Eli. We would be unwise to ignore our own tradition.”

Temasah sneered. “Appealing to tradition is the last thing I expect from you, Gavroche! Of course you wish to hear them out; it was you who brought them here!” And, Czestadt reflected, the one bishop who had some idea of what was still to come. It was the price Gavroche of Boreaux had sought for his cooperation.

“And you who appeal to every other tradition would ignore this one? It is not a conceit that you employ at whim. Either we follow tradition in whole or not at all!”

“I concur with Bishop Gavroche,” a third voice interjected. “As fantastic as Sir Czestadt’s claim, we should see some evidence before we render judgement. First, I too believed Bishop Jothay to be on pilgrimage. Yet this knights asserts he is dead. How is this possible?”

“Aye,” Temasah added, both voice and manner reeking with suspicion. “How did Bishop Jothay die and leave on pilgrimage at the same time?”

Czestadt knew that he wouldn’t have the intellectual heft to debate these men, so decided to answer bluntly. “I was present when he died. I saw, as did Sir Petriz, Kashin, and one other in this room, Jothay impaled on his own sword upon a pagan altar far beneath the streets of Yesulam. I will swear an oath before Eli what I say is true, as will the other three who were there. Jothay is dead.”

“Who is this other person?” the young bishop of Abaef pressed, brows furrowed in consternation.

The three Questioners stood and one of them shouted, “It is I! I saw Jothay die just as the knight has said.” All eyes turned back to them as they glided from their seats and into the central arena. They stood a short distance from the knights, and one of them took a step forward and continued to speak. “My name is Akaleth, and for a time I was Jothay’s prisoner in that pagan chamber. I was tortured, on Jothay’s orders, by the very man who slew Patriarch Akabaieth, Krenek Zagrosek! Jothay was guilty, and has met the end prepared for him.”

“Outrageous!” An older bishop shrieked. “Blasphemy!”

Akaleth did not listen. “I revealed my knowledge of the artifacts of Yajakali to Jothay, and from whom I learned of them. For that I was tortured and forced to watch Bishop Morean killed by Jothay and the evil sword he carried!”

Geshter struck his crozier on the dais, body trembling in fearful tempest. “Enough! Vinsah was excommunicated for peddling pagan superstition in these hallowed walls. Would you commit the same act of heresy?”

Akaleth turned to Geshter and shook his head. “I speak only what I have seen. All those who venture to Marzac are corrupted by the evil Yajakali set loose eleven thousand years ago. An exorcism was performed there a few years ago at the behest of the Marquis Camille du Tournemire.”

“Liar!” Temasah shouted. “There is no record of such an exorcism.”

The Questioner reached into his sleeve and drew out a scroll case. His fingers undid the latch. “Indeed. The Book of Exorcisms in the library reveals no such journey. However, there was a letter from the parish priest in Metamor last year seeking counsel regarding Marzac. The reply was archived in the Great Library, and in it, it is revealed that an exorcism was performed there a few years prior. Because of this, I suspected a page was missing. We found the missing page amongst the many papers Jothay saved.”

Tipping the scroll case on it side, a curled bit of parchment slid free. Akaleth unfolded it and read, “ ‘July, 703 CR: Bishop Jothay of Eavey accompanied Cardinal Geshter of Pyralis to the Marzac peninsula in the Pyralian Kingdoms. There they performed an exorcism in the Chateau Marzac and successfully cleansed it of evil demons.’ ” Akaleth rolled the parchment up again, and stared at the Patriarch. “You have also been corrupted by the evil of Marzac, your holiness. I only pray that Eli can cleanse you now.”

With the Council erupting once more into confused shouts, none of them witnessed the disgraced Yeshuel pull the slipknot loose. With nimble fingers Kashin unwound the cord from his neck, then plucked the Sathmoran blade from the ground. There was an audible hum in his mind as he gripped its haft, and he could feel the point dragging towards the man standing on the dais.

Only when he stood did anyone take notice of him. The two Yeshuel standing on either side of Geshter stepped forward brandishing their own swords. Kashin stared at them, saying nothing. Slowly, he lifted his blade, forcing it to rise to his face. Ever it yearned to reach for the man who’d been to Marzac, pulled like a lodestone across the air.

“You lie!” You lie!” Temasah insisted in a shrill scream. “You have forged that of your own hand!”

“I remember seeing Metamor’s request!” Another bishop shouted.

“Marzac is the same pagan foolishness we have heard before!” an elderly bishop cried. “These priests speak blasphemy! Do not listen to them!”

“Marzac is evil!” Gavroche maintained, slamming his fist on the balustrade before him.

“Marzac is a lie!” Temasah shouted back, waving his fist in the air like a drunken man.

Geshter rapped his crozier again, this time so forcefully that the peal hurt their ears. “These pagan ideas sow only division in Yahshua’s Ecclesia, Akaleth of the Questioners. And you presume to call me corrupt, Yahshua’s chief priest in this world? I am not the first to be so maligned, and history has ever vindicated the Ecclesia against its opponents.”

Kehthaek replied, his words smooth and sharp, “As will you, your holiness. History will show that even the power of Marzac could not shatter the foundation of the Ecclesia. Though Marzac is great and terrible in its malevolence, the love and grace of Yahshua, and His promise to St. Kephas, is greater still.”

“You continue to accuse me of being subject to pagan powers! Enough!” Geshter struck his crozier again, this time brandishing it as if it were a spear ready to impale a beast cringing at his feet. “And you violate the order of the Questioners by your cowls. Conduct yourselves properly and show your faces! And would you restrain this traitorous Yeshuel before he kills someone!”

This last was said of Kashin, who still held the Sathmoran blade tightly before his face. The two Yeshuel before him were joined by two behind. Their eyes were firm, but there was a look of hope there too. Four sword points kept Kashin in place, but he did not appear to notice them. He had eyes only for Geshter. And in his mind a drumbeat was beginning to sound, deliberate and insistent. Something, a flicker of light, danced across the Patriarch’s angry countenance.

“We are cowled,” Felsah explained, “because we are doing what we were assigned to do – learn the truth about what happened at Metamor when Patriarch Akabaieth was slain. We are still learning, and will tell you more of what we have learned.” He took his scroll case from his sleeve, opened it, and removed several pieces of parchment.

“This is a letter from Bishop Rott of Marilyth to Jothay,” Felsah pronounced as he uncurled the top parchment. “ ‘Your grace, I write to you under alarming circumstances. You promised me that once the apostate Akabaieth was dead, war with Sathmore was inevitable. You assured me we would be able to march upon the pagan Lightbringers and drive them from the shores of Galendor. You promised me these glorious victories, yet what do we have? Nothing! Hockmann’s armies were stopped at the border and turned back to Breckaris! Ammodus twiddles his thumbs in Kelewair like a goose with a spit up his ass! Will you do what you swore and bring us war! Or will you dither like the fat buffoon I thought you to be?’ ”

The elderly Rott stammered, even as eyes turned upon him. “He lies! He lies!” he shrieked, collapsing back in his seat. “He lies... the pagans put those words in his hands to destroy us!”

Felsah set that letter aside and read from the second. “And this one is from Bishop Temasah of Abaef.”

“No! Whatever he says will be a lie! I have not sent any correspondence to Jothay!” Temasah roared.

“ ‘Your grace, I have done as you requested and begun spreading rumours of ill conduct on the part of Vinsah. Once word of the Patriarch’s murder by the Sathmorans reaches us, Vinsah’s reputation will be thoroughly sullied and you can install your puppet, if even Vinsah survives. Are you sure you cannot reveal to me your method? I would like to know more of what you intend.’ ”

“I never wrote that!” Temasah shrieked, his voice jumping an octave in horror. The bishop climbed over the balustrade and stormed towards the Questioners. “I will stop your lies if no one else will!”

Kehthaek turned to face him and stared down at the tempestuous bishop. Temasah grabbed him by his collar and threw him to the ground. “Stop this now! You are nothing but pagan heretics!”

Sir Petriz moved fast, gripping Temasah’s arm and dragging him backwards, but being careful not to injure him. “You dare not touch a priest that way!”

Temasah apparently disagreed, as he screamed in rage and ran his fingers down Petriz’s face. The knight ducked his head to the side and then wrapped his arms around the bishop’s middle. Temasah was pinned. He screamed obscenities, kicked in the air, but could not break out of Petriz’s grip.

Felsah and Akaleth helped Kehthaek back to his feet. The elder Questioner took out his scroll case and unlatched it. “I have a letter from Grand Questioner Mizrahek that he will confess is his own. It reads, ‘I, Grand Questioner Mizrahek, do confess that I conspired with Bishop Jothay of Eavey to hide the evidence of Zagrosek’s involvement with Patriarch Akabaieth’s murder, as well as his involvement in the slaughter of the Patriarch’s retinue. I did knowingly prevent the Questioners sent to Metamor from pursuing these facts, and I knowingly edited their records to prevent them from being presented to the Bishop’s Council. I knew of Jothay’s complicity in the matter, and I did nothing. Further, I aided in Jothay’s murder of Grand Questioner Nethelek. It was Jothay who ensured that Father Kehthaek was sent on the Questioning to Metamor, so that I would be the one chosen to replace Nethelek.’ ”

Kehthaek unrolled the last of the parchment, eyes scanning the bishops carefully. They were rivetted, some shocked, others furious. Temasah still struggled to free himself from Petriz’s grip. The four Yeshuel watched only Kashin, who stood with eyes closed, blade pressed against his face. Geshter watched them all like a beast trapped in a cage. Licking his lips, Kehthaek concluded, “ ‘In each of these ways, I am guilty. Jothay was the prime mover to destroy Akabaieth, but I have been his willing accomplice. I testify that the bearer of this message tells you the truth. All his accusations are just. Listen to him and spare yourselves damnation.’ So writes Grand Questioner Mizrahek. He has also confessed his desire to abdicate and seek a cloistered life, but that can wait until these matters are settled.”

Geshter finally found his voice again, though it was strained and half-choked. “Where is Grand Questioner Mizrahek to confirm these things you say? You could have penned this letter yourself, if you have kidnapped him. Well known are the ways of the Questioners in securing the verdict they desire!”

“Torture does that, aye,” Akaleth shouted. “Well I know this, for I have long used it to extract confessions. Some truth comes only through pain. And some comes from reason. But the greatest of truths come from neither of these, but from revelation. I am a witness to the revelation of Jothay’s crimes. We have more evidence of complicity by others on the Council, but perhaps what we need is a revelation instead.”

“What sort of revelation could you conjure forth? You have revealed that you are madmen already!” Geshter straightened his dalmatic and wrapped both hands around his crozier. “But I am magnanimous. Recant everything you have said this day, turn over these forgeries, and leave. If you do, your penance will be light. If you refuse, you will suffer Kashin’s fate.”

“Nae,” Kashin said, letting the Sathmoran blade pull away from his lips. “It is time to reveal things unseen. Let us blind the darkness with light.” He cast a quick glance at the Yeshuel, then added, “Sir Czestadt, your power.”

The Knight Templar spread his hands wide. “Forgive me, Father, for this may be sin.” Suddenly, the Yeshuels’ swords were yanked overhead, throwing all four of them off balance. Kashin pressed through them, the sword tip driving him towards the Patriarch. Shouts of horror erupted from the Yeshuel who abandoned their swords to Czestadt’s control to try and stop Kashin’s advance. But a piercing light struck their eyes and they stumbled helplessly, trying to shut out a light that penetrated everything, even their eyelids.

Geshter sneered at Kashin, glancing to the golden sword and then into the man’s face. “Kill me with that, and you will start a war that will end only with millions dead. I will be triumphant!”

The sword throbbed in his mind, but Kashin knew its particular rhythm now. He allowed it to guide his breathing, his pulse, even the flicker of his eye lids. The sword lifted his hand, the tip inches from Geshter’s middle. The bishops were struck dumb with terror as Kehthaek read yet another letter illuminating Jothay’s plot; their ears hearing Kehthaek, but their eyes upon Kashin and Geshter. And ever so slowly, what the sword had known all along they began to see as well.

Enveloping Geshter was a tangible darkness, as of a shadow that had climbed from the floor and walls and taken shape. No light reflected from it, and Kashin watched it shift across Geshter’s features, like holes into nothing. Only where the sword drew near did this shadow substance abate.

Kashin grinned at the stupefied priest. “Cenziga sees you. And I see you, Yajakali!”

With a hellish scream the black thing tore itself from Geshter and lunged at Kashin. The sword flew from his grasp and carried the shadow substance high up into the dome. The Patriarch fell back into St. Kephas’s seat, a look of confusion filling his face. His eyes, along with all others, watched the battle between the sword and the darkness.

The room throbbed alternately like the beat of a drum and like iron spikes scrapping over glass. The black mass flinched from the Sathmoran blade, which twisted and turned ever intending to pierce the shadow. But each time the shadow moved, always stretching towards the bishops watching in fear. The sword chased it and chased it, trapping it within the dome.

All other activity ceased. Czestadt dropped the Yeshuels’ swords, Akaleth released them from the blinding light, and even Temasah could struggle no more as he watched the two unearthly combatants. The moments passed into minutes, the audible roar of the drum and glass a growing agony in their minds. Muscles tensed and spasmed, and hoarse cries rang out from every throat save one.

Kashin knew this rhythm, knew the song of the ash mountain. It was the purest essence of identity he’d ever felt. It was dignity in a way few could cope. Drawing in his breath, Kashin tilted back his head and roared into the tumult, “Eli’s servant is here, the mighty Cenziga!”

For a split second, the shadow-thing paused, as if it were trying to understand the words. In that moment the sword penetrated its depths, the black enveloping it like a glove. A horrific peal like a bell smashing through stained glass thundered in the chamber. A single flash of light erupted from the dome, and then the sword fell harmlessly to the floor. The shadow was no more.

Several seconds passed and none said a word. They looked at each other, confused and uncertain. The four Yeshuel were the first to act, rushing to Geshter’s side and helping the elderly Patriarch to his feet. All eyes came to rest on him. Geshter stared at the Sathmoran blade, Kashin, then the Questioners and the Driheli. His voice cracking in sorrow he shouted, “It’s true! Every word they have said is true! Eli have mercy on us all, for it is true!”

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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