by Rob Steiner
“I am Fatimah of Kulon Fields. I’ve been summoned by the Holy Seat.”
Fatimah stood before the large, slanted wood desk of Olma Merhtash, Deacon to the Holy Seat. The Deacon did not look up from the parchment on which she was writing. Even with Fatimah’s height, it was difficult not to stand on her tip toes to meet the Deacon’s eyes. Fatimah had heard that the Holy Seat’s assistant acted like she had all the power of the Holy Seat herself. With three decades of service, Fatimah supposed that Deacon Olma thought she was the Holy Seat. No doubt she did much of the Seat’s work.
Fatimah waited for the older woman to finish what she was doing, knowing that the Deacon would not interrupt her work for a newly ordained priest, no matter if the Seat had summoned her. Fatimah treated her wait as another lesson in Patience, lessons that were still fresh in her mind with her ordination only three weeks past. For Fatimah, it was the hardest lesson to master, and one that she constantly practiced.
Questions raged in her mind, the least of which was why the Seat had summoned Fatimah for a personal audience. It was highly improper, for Master Eblin should accompany Fatimah on any audience with the Seat. Though Fatimah was now ordained, she was Apprenticed to Eblin of Luesing, Master of Languages, and member of the Tuathan Master Circle. For the next five years, Fatimah would study the Recindian languages and culture under Eblin’s guidance. As tradition dictated, Fatimah would learn nothing else, and was thus forbidden to perform tasks during her Apprenticeship that did not relate to her studies. Fatimah hoped that Eblin would not be angry with her for coming to the Seat’s quarters. But when three large, stern Heshmen knocked on her Heiron apartment door at dawn demanding she dress for an immediate audience with the Seat, she felt she did not have a choice in the matter.
Deacon Olma placed her pen in its quill, blew on the parchment to dry the ink, sprinkled fine sand over it, and then rolled it into a small scroll. She placed the scroll into a wood tube, capped it, and sealed it with a dollop of hot, red wax. She pulled the handle to a bell behind her desk. A young female Acolyte—for all Tuathan priests were female—with a white sash wrapped around her waist, appeared from a door to the right of the desk.
The Deacon handed the Acolyte the scroll.
“Master Simmish,” the Deacon ordered. The girl nodded, and then ran out the door Fatimah had entered and up the stairs toward the raven cages on the tenth floor of the Heiron, the great, ancient obelisk in the center of Fedalan that was home to the Tuathan priesthood and government.
Deacon Olma’s gray-green eyes then regarded Fatimah as if she were another Acolyte. It grated on Fatimah, for she had earned the right to a little respect from other priests once she was ordained.
But Fatimah kept these thoughts from showing and returned the Deacon’s appraising look with Patience.
“The Holy Seat is meeting with the Master Circle at the moment,” the Deacon said. “Sit down. I do not know how long it will take.”
Fatimah turned on her heel and sat down at one of the wood benches across from the Deacon’s desk. She had been fast asleep less than a quarter of an hour ago, almost dragged out of her apartment by the Seat’s bodyguards as if the Heiron was on fire, and now she had to wait only Ahura knew how long before the Seat explained why she needed a Recindian languages Apprentice before dawn.
She took a deep breath. Practice your Patience…
Fatimah glanced out the thick glass windows to her right, focusing on the sliver of a rising sun beyond the dark, forested hills to the east. Sunrises always calmed her, for they reminded her of her childhood on her family’s sheep farm. Fatimah and her papa would take the sheep out of their pens early—
A strange twinkling in the sky near the window’s edge drew her eye from the sun. She leaned forward. The light looked to be a rainbow, but she had never seen one in the pre-dawn sky. She stood and went to the window to get a better look.
The “rainbow” was a band of swirling colors that spanned the sky from north to south. But what made her heart freeze was the black band next to it, as if all light had been cast from it, and all that was left was an abyss in the sky.
She gasped. It was Ahura and Angra. The Barrier had fallen.
She stumbled backward, and then rushed to the Deacon’s desk, breathless. She pointed to the window, tried to find words to communicate the enormity of what she saw. Fatimah did not take her eyes from the sight, for fear that both bands would disappear and the Deacon would think her to be an overexcited Acolyte.
Almost bored, the Deacon said, “I know, child, the Barrier is gone. That is why the Holy Seat is busy with the Circle at the moment.”
Ignoring Olma’s reference to her as “child,” Fatimah stammered, “But when? How?”
“Regarding the ‘when’, it was over six hours ago.” The Deacon gave her a curious look, and asked, “Did you not see the flash of light? It turned night into day all across the world.”
Fatimah shook her head absently. “I am a heavy sleeper.”
Olma frowned, and then continued. “Well, as for the ‘how,’ that is what the Holy Seat and the Circle will tell us when the time is right. Now please have a seat, child, before you fall down from excitement.”
Fatimah stumbled back to her seat, her gaze locked on Ahura, the Avatar of Creation. She tried not to look at Angra, or what the priesthood called the Avatar of Chaos. Its emptiness made her feel too cold and queasy. She supposed it was her Tuathan blood, for it had evolved over millennia to feed off of Ahura’s grace…and to shun Angra’s blasphemy.
How could the Barrier have fallen? What did this mean for the world?
Does this mean I can—?
Fatimah gave the Deacon a wary glance, but she was busy writing another parchment. Remembering her lessons in Wielding history and methods, Fatimah practiced her Patience, allowing every muscle to relax and her mind to travel to a place and time where she was most at peace. She remembered a crisp spring day when she was a small girl, sitting on a hill with her father watching the sheep feed on the season’s new green grass. Her father was honing a shearing knife on a leather band in preparation for the wool harvest the next day. The weather had finally turned warm after a long cold winter, with a blue sky and a warm, humid wind that was more to Fatimah’s liking. She knew her mother would have hot tea ready for them when they returned to the farmhouse at dusk. She had felt so content, so peaceful….
Fatimah opened her eyes and concentrated on the candle that lit the Deacon’s desk. Calm and at peace, Fatimah raised her left hand, imagining herself touching the rainbow-like band in the sky.
And Ahura overwhelmed her. She had never felt such love and peace in her life, not even in the sweetest, most comforting moments with her father and mother. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she wanted to stay in this joy forever.
But she knew that staying too long would destroy her mind, or so the legends said.
With all her will, she drew Ahura into herself and called on Water. In her mind, she felt it in her hand, cool and clean, and then she focused it toward the candle on Olma’s desk.
There was a pop in her ears, and then the candle winked out with a hiss. The Deacon looked up at the candle, then at Fatimah. Realization dawned on her face, and she cried, “What did you do?”
Before Fatimah could answer, the room spun. The dark corners and tapestry covered walls became one large blur, and she tumbled off the bench.
© 2012 Rob Steiner