Leona R Wisoker
Supplicant Evkit, age eighteen
Evkit wore red and silver and green. Hardly an inconspicious outfit against the bleak grey stone surroundings, and not at all in keeping with the moment, his age, or his status. He didn’t care. Let his peers and elders stare. Let them frown and remind him of the solemnity of the occasion, of the appropriate manners and formalities.
Better yet, let them roll their eyes and discount him behind their hands. He could almost hear what they were all whispering to one another in the observation chamber far above, as he paced down the narrow stairway:
He won’t make it. Pity, we’ll have to clean up another mess. What did you expect from a son of Okik? Such a waste, such a shame. We never should have allowed young Evkit to enter desert lord training in the first place. But his father was so insistent, and we didn’t really think he’d get this far.
Yes, his father had been insistent. And yes, all along the way, through the first trial, through the second, everyone had expected him to fail. If they’d been smart enough to keep it within the teyanain, he might have, but they’d bowed to the nauseating tradition established by the Agreement and brought outsiders to judge the first two trials. A Callen of Comos, a Callen of Datda: dedicated god-servants with the best of intentions but a severe lack of experience with teyanain ways.
He’d told the Callen what they wanted to hear, and in spite of their reputation for uncanny perceptions they hadn’t noticed the drug in his system that stopped them from sensing his lies. They had smiled approval and passed him without question.
Now it was time for the last trial. The last blood trial, to make him a desert lord, bound body, mind, and soul to the great creature lurking far below, just as the Agreement dictated.
“We’re not like the others, Evkit,” his father had said, many times over the years. “We walk a difficult road, with enemies on all sides, holding the truth as our torch and keeping each other steady on the path. The Agreement has corrupted our people. Let them laugh. Let them roll their eyes. They’ll find out, one day, and you’ll be the one to show them how wrong they’ve been. You’ll be the one to bring us back to what we ought to be.”
Once, only once, Evkit asked, “But if we’re so different, why do we stay here? Why don’t we go where there are others who agree with our beliefs?”
That foolish question had earned him a ritualized whipping to cleanse his soul from the taint of outsider thoughts.
“We are teyanain,” Okik declared as blood ran down his son’s back. “We will not leave our own people! We will not even consider such an atrocity! We will teach our people the error of their ways. The lowest of the true teyanain are better than the highest ranked outsider. We will not lower ourselves to consort with outsiders. Our people have strayed. We will correct them. Never forget. We are the true teyanain, and we will lead our people back to truth.”
Evkit never forgot.
And because it was not the first lesson Okik had burned in with pain, he never complained, never showed anyone the whip marks. In time he had forgotten the scars; had taken off his shirt in a training session and been honestly startled at the hisses of shock from his companions. His indifferent shrug in response to their attempts at sympathy had added to the already established mystique.
His peers avoided Evkit as they would a dangerous viper, cracking coarse jokes behind his back. His elders scowled impatiently, muttering about the waste. How could one so emotionally and physically damaged possibly work with the larger whole? they demanded when they thought he couldn’t hear them. He’ll be no use except for Outrider patrols among Horn villages – and oh, he burned, when he overheard that plan. There were many unkind things said about Outriders, a thick sheaf of jokes ready to hand out to humiliate those forced into such a semi-exile.
“Ignore them,” Okik said, when Evkit came to him in a rage. “They’re fools. Let them laugh. You’ll show them soon enough.”
Soon was about to become now.
He descended steadily, indifferent as the walls closed in and the ceiling lowered until turning back would involve a severely scraped set of elbows at the very least.
Evkit kept his gaze straight ahead and proceeded with utter serenity, counting each step in his head. He even smiled at the sight of bloody streaks dried on the walls around him, mute testament to other supplicants’ panicked failure.
Outsiders couldn’t make this journey. They were all too tall, too wide. Even some of the teyanain were too large. Evkit fitted in the passage as if it had been carved specifically for him. He felt the stone gently brushing the top of his head, caressing his shoulders, welcoming his bare feet. The dim, sourceless light died completely, leaving him in utter blackness. That meant he was close.
Today they would all stop laughing at him. And he might never stop.
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