Small whispers, myths and rumors flooded the streets after the newly ascended Chief Cleric’s public display of Trinidad’s arrest. Her coterie held an emergency council to discuss what to do in her defense. The city was divided: one half assuming there was evidence against her, otherwise the Chief Cleric would have been prohibited from making an arrest, the other half positive of her innocence. Leo had chosen to perform the spectacle in front of the whole world. And now, he planned to dispose of her quietly. He had her brought to his salon for adjudication and commanded his Sentinella to guard the entrance. As he spoke, his level of hatred for her rose to the surface, and he removed his persona. Trinidad gasped at seeing his face through Riley’s eyes, who himself stood unmoved and just stared at the Chief Cleric.
“You know why I did that?” He asked her. Trinidad shook her head. “Because, I want you to see the face of the man who’s going to kill you. I am the savior of the people. Me! You… are nothing but a witch and a heretic, and you will die for your crimes!” Leo shouted, placing his persona back over his face and calling to the holy guard, “Sentinella!” The four of them entered the room and stood behind Trinidad and Riley. “Take her to the sewers. Dispose of her body.”
“Yes sir.” Gammon replied, grabbing her by the arm and directing the others to take the boy. They placed a hood over Riley’s head so neither of them could see where they were being taken and exited the room. The four guards made their way through the citadel and into the bowels of the sewer system.
“Lagos!” The Chief Cleric called out to his initiate who entered immediately. “Contact Lupus and Tike and have them come to my salon directly.”
“Yes sir.” Lagos bowed slightly and backed out of the room, closing the doors.
Leo took off his persona and laid it on the bed. He paced the room as he prepared what he was going to say to the clergy. Everything was going according to plan. He had rid himself of the previous Chief Cleric, he had done away with the heretic witch who opposed his absolute rule, and he was about to ensure that the two eldest clerics would be in lock step with his decisions. The Chief Cleric flashed a sinister smile as he thought; by the end of the day he alone would be in total control of Sid Mantelis
The six of them were in the sewers now, giant concrete tubes suspended above a seven story drop to the reclamation tanks below. Iron pipes diagramed the walls where pumps, dials and valves drew consecutive punctuations in the lines. A small concrete stairway leading to the subsystem monitors below was the only way down. The water flowed in a continuous turbulent clamor as the machines churned filling the chamber with a monotonous thrumming echo that was almost deafening. Nobody would see or hear anything.
Urso removed the hood from Riley’s head. “Any last words?” He asked.
“Thank you.” Trinidad said quietly. << Riley, keep an eye on Oso for me. >> << The Ox aspect >> << Yes, that one. >> Trinidad spoke to Riley telepathically as his eyes moved over to Oso.
Urso turned and grabbed Boz, tossing him over the side seven stories to his death below. He then took his halberd, the long-shafted bladed weapon of the Holy Guard, and squared off against Gammon as Trinidad grabbed Oso from behind while Riley looked on. “You don’t know what you’re doing!” Urso admonished his holy brother.
“We have our orders Urso, you are duty bound to follow them!” Gammon, the large pig-faced Sentinella stated blocking Urso’s staff with his own.
They were well-matched. Both of them were robust, broad shouldered men with powerful arms and barrel chests. But, Urso had something to fight for … the truth. He parried and side stepped Gammon’s blows, striking out sharply with his own staff. Gammon blocked the forward momentum of Urso’s attacks easily. The halberd was a poor weapon of choice for the close quarters of the platform and Urso became concerned momentarily that it would come down to hand-to-hand combat. Suddenly, Gammon caught Urso’s staff with his and twisted it, breaking the shaft in two. Urso found himself wielding two weapons and instantly went for a strike to Gammon’s head. He blocked the blow with his staff, but missed Urso’s other hand, the one with the bladed end, which sent seventeen inches of spiked steel through Gammon’s gut. Gammon groaned in pain and watched as Urso kicked him, sending him scrabbling backward off the platform and tumbling to his death. All that remained now was Oso, but when Urso turned he found him knocked out on the ground, Trinidad having choked him to unconsciousness. “How did you …?” Urso simply stood dumbfounded.
“Let’s go Riley, we have to leave this place.” Trinidad said, grabbing Riley’s hand in hers. “Thank you Urso, you saved my life! Tell your wife she must take my place now. And let her know I’ll return.” Trinidad said confidently, giving Urso a single-handed hug as he bent forward to hug her in return. “Now go, we’ll be fine.” They made their way down the steps and through one of the sewer lines that ran the length of the barrier to the outside world and escaped undetected.
Urso bent over Oso and slapped him across the face.
Tike and Lupus entered the salon and waited there alone. Leo came out of the washroom, his persona still on the bed, toweling dry his face. He saw their eyes move from his face to the persona and back again. “Infernal thing, can’t stand wearing it!” They both looked on in horrified shock at Leo’s maskless face. “Gentlemen, I have received a vision. A word from our Lord: Desist. It came to me in a dream as I slept last night. His most high has asked that we cease wearing the personas, and that we reveal ourselves to the people.” He stated directly.
“You received word from Hiassem about this?” Lupus asked.
“I did indeed.” Leo replied. “He has asked that we all stop wearing them tonight. I will hold a special convocation of the clergy and inform them of his decision.”
“You can’t do that.” Tike said.
“This is heresy!” Lupus added.
“The people will not stand for it.” Tike finished.
“The people? The people will do whatever I tell them!” Leo responded angrily. His blood roiled from their defiance. “I am the voice of Hiassem now, and what I say goes!”
“Omaha …” They both stated in unison, bowing low. Whatever this was, they knew there was no way to stop him here.
“What have you done with Trinidad?” Tike asked.
“Trinidad has been dealt with. She is no longer a concern of ours.” Leo answered.
“What have you done?” Tike begged.
“Come along Tike,” Lupus recommended, “We must convene a council of the clergy for Leo.”
“Thank you Lupus, you have always been the more level-headed of the two of you.” Leo stated.
The men bowed and left the room quietly. Lagos entered upon seeing them depart and Leo informed him to prepare his alb and sash for the council of clergy. Once he was sure Tike and Lupus were out of earshot he told his initiate, “I may have to do something about those two.”
“Whatever your orders are sir, I am your servant.” Lagos bowed low and left the salon heading for Leo’s chamber.
The waters rushed forth in a stentorian roar as Trinidad and Riley carefully negotiated the edge of the catwalk along the sewer’s inner wall. Below the mouth of the sewer lay a riverbed, the front of which was piled high with stones that captured any falling debris making it easier for the men and women of the cottages surrounding it to gather their treasures. They could be seen day and night collecting whatever made its way out of the city and bringing it home to sift through. Most of it would be traded, the rest kept for themselves. It was a nasty, brutish existence, but it was better, they estimated, than living within the confines of Sid Mantelis. So, when Trinidad and Riley emerged from within, they were more than glad to help them down.
“Ramesh! Over here!” Napreet called out to her husband. She pointed to the mouth of the sewer line.
“We must help them, Napreet. Kabir, give your mother your net and help me get them down.” Ramesh stated, acting quickly. “Stay where you are!” He shouted to the escapees. “The rocks are slippery, one wrong foot and you could be sliced open by their jagged edges. Wait for us!” Trinidad and Riley waited for Ramesh and his son to come to their aid. Carefully, Ramesh and Kabir navigated the mossy stones until they had reached the pair of refugees. “Here, take my hand.” Ramesh extended his hand to Trinidad who reached out, lost her footing and had to step back. “It’s ok, I will make sure you are safe.” Trinidad reached out again and this time Ramesh leaned closer and grasped Trinidad’s hand firmly. “Kabir will get your boy.” Ramesh said, helping Trinidad to the stones below. “Keep an eye where you step, best to try to walk on the dry stones.” Riley paid close attention to her feet so Trinidad could see where to go. The four of them made their way down the rocks and finally onto solid ground.
“Thank you so much for your help. We couldn’t have done that without you.” Trinidad said gratefully.
<< Smiling face >>
“Riley thanks you as well.” Trinidad said.
“We don’t often get people trying to escape the city. But I certainly don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to live there either.” Ramesh said.
“Thank you. I’m Trinidad and this is Riley.” Trinidad said.
“I am Ramesh, this is my wife, Napreet and my son, Kabir.” Ramesh said proudly patting his son on the back.
“Come back with us and get dry, we can offer you a change of clothes as well.” Napreet offered. “I’m sure I have something of Kabir’s left that will fit your boy.”
“It’s very nice to meet you. Thank you, that would be nice.” Trinidad stated politely as she gathered Riley under her arm.
They all followed the winding pathway back to the cottages nestled just beside the enormous dome that loomed like a giant sentinel over the community. They all entered the home and saw Safi washing off some herbs in the basin. “Mama! Come look what I did!” Safi said brimming with pride.
“I will in a moment dear, right now we have guests. Can you help me find some of Kabir’s old clothes, do you know where we put them?” Napreet asked her daughter.
“You can get dried off and out of those wet clothes in our room. Napreet will give you something to change into.” Ramesh said. “Kabir, go help your mother.” Ramesh instructed while taking their catch for the day into the kitchen. Their house was a modest abode, just a small cottage. Hardly big enough for the four of them, but they made do. Ramesh immediately set about separating the vegetables and fruits, anything of value, from the inedibles. It was almost disturbing what the people of Sid Mantelis saw fit to throw out. But, he and his family, as well as the other families around the outskirts, were more than happy to gather it up and sift through it for anything of value.
“Preeta, I have a few bananas here, if you think we have enough soybeans we could make the red curry you’ve been wanting.” Ramesh called to his wife from the kitchen.
“That sounds lovely dear!” Napreet called out to her husband. “Safi, take these clothes to my bedroom, but knock first.” She told Safi.
“Yes, mama!” Safi said cheerily and danced off toward her mother’s room. She knocked on the door holding her brother’s clothes in her arms. “I have some clothes for you!” She hollered through the door.
Trinidad opened the door for her and accepted them gladly. “Thank you, Safi.”
“How do you know my name?” Safi asked.
“Your mother said it when we first arrived.” Trinidad explained.
“Oh!” Safi said giggling, covering her mouth as she did and then twirled away into the kitchen with her father.
<< Garbage pail with Ramesh digging in it >> “Yes Riley, they were collecting leftovers outside the sewers. Remember how I would throw out things when I felt we had too much? I was sending it to people like them. I knew they scavenged for food and other necessities out here, and wanted to help them as much as I could.” Trinidad explained to Riley. “How do the clothes fit you?” << A glove >> “Good! Now, I bet you’re starving. Let’s go see if we can help our hosts. Lead the way.” Riley headed out of the bedroom and into the main living space fascinated by everything he saw. Over on the mantle was a collection of tiny statues and images of different creatures and people. One of them was a man standing on one leg with six arms. Another one had the head of an elephant, yet another the face of a lion. << The lion aspect >> “That’s right Riley, it’s Hiassem. This is an altar to the many gods.”
“Oh yes, there is a kaleidoscope of gods! Each belief system is a pathway to the divine life force power of the universe.” Ramesh remarked. “I hope you enjoy curry. My wife is making a special dish. A favorite of hers that we have not had in many years.”
“Curry? How on earth did you come by curry? We don’t even have that in the city.” Trinidad remarked.
“Traders bring in spices and other foodstuffs all the time. We were lucky enough to trade with them.” Ramesh explained. “Now, would you like to help me hydrate the soybeans and press them into patties, Riley?” Ramesh asked the boy who nodded vigorously.
Trinidad sat on the most comfortable sofa she had ever experienced and watched through Riley’s eyes as he and the others prepared Napreet’s red curry dish.
“My grandmother taught me to make this when I was Safi’s age. It was passed down many generations.” Napreet explained.
“I wonder if I could trouble you to let me borrow Safi for a moment?” Trinidad asked her.
“Of course. Safi, go help Ms. Trinidad.” Napreet instructed.
“Ok, mama!” Safi said.
“Do you know how to write, Safi?” Trinidad asked.
“Yes, but we don’t have any paper.” Safi replied.
“I have some in my clothes in your mother’s bedroom, would you be so kind as to bring it in here for me. I’d like you to write something down.” Trinidad told her. Safi ran into her mother’s room and found the clothes Trinidad had folded neatly on the bed and rummaged through them looking for paper and pencil. As soon as she found them she came back to Trinidad and sat on the edge of the couch.
“This is going to be like a poem. I’m going to need you to write it down exactly as I say it, line by line. Ok?” Trinidad asked.
“Safi, manners.” Napreet called out to her.
“Oh. Yes, ma’am!” Safi responded happily.
“Let’s begin shall we?” Trinidad said to Safi who nodded approvingly. “Time, the master through which all seeds are sown …”
Inside Sid Mantelis Leo was in his chamber preparing for the council meeting. Lagos came and knocked at his door. “My Lord.” He called to him.
“Enter.” Leo responded at the sound of his voice.
Lagos walked in timorously, uncertain how to approach the subject, hesitated and then blurted out, “The elders have mixed responses about this council meeting. Some have stated their misgivings about the appropriateness of it.” He explained.
“That’s unfortunate for them.” Leo stated confidently. “The word of Hiassem is law. They’ll have to accept it.”
“Omaha.” Lagos replied bowing slightly.
With his back to Lagos Leo stood tall and proudly asked, “And, what do you think, Lagos?”
“Yes, you.” Leo said, turning toward Lagos and staring imperiously into his eyes, “What do you think?”
“I think … you are the voice of God, Lord. And what you say … is his word. You are the avatar of Hiassem on Earth, Lord.” Lagos said, his voice cracked slightly.
“I sense some hesitation, Lagos.” Leo replied as he stepped closer to his initiate. “Are you sure you believe that?”
“Well … what, Lagos?”
“I … of course I do, Lord.” Lagos straightened himself up and stared back into Leo’s eyes resolutely.
“Good.” Leo smiled and turned away. He picked up his sash and began examining it, running his soft, slender fingers over the intricate embroidery. Another knock at the door startled Lagos.
“Enter.” Leo called out.
A nurse entered the room and saw Leo without his mask on and casted his eyes to the ground in reverence. “I’m sorry to have bothered you sir, I mean Lord, but it’s your holy guard Urso. He’s with the doctor in the medical building. He says he was attacked by one of his holy brothers and wishes to speak to you personally. I’m to escort you.”
“Thank you …” Leo looked at him searchingly.
“It’s Ridley sir, Lord.” The young man replied.
“Thank you, Ridley. I’ll be there shortly.” Leo replied.
“Omaha.” The nurse responded and bowed deeply, gracious for the opportunity to speak to the Chief Cleric personally.
“Omaha.” Leo said, and placed his hand on the nurse’s head in blessing. The nurse turned and stepped outside the chamber. Lagos closed the door behind him.
“Wasn’t Urso …” Lagos began.
“One of the Sentinella I sent with Trinidad. Yes.” Leo finished mildly disturbed. “We should go find out what’s happened before the council meeting.” Leo grabbed his long coat, a white woolen manteau embroidered with elaborate stitching that featured a full-bodied aspect of the lion god Hiassem, and headed through the door. Lagos followed behind him and they all began making their way to the medical facility.
“Read that last part back to me, Safi, the last two lines.” Trinidad asked.
“But in silence she will give painful birth, and a child shall save the barren earth.” Safi read from what Trinidad had dictated. “Is that true? A child is going to save us?” She said looking up at Trinidad who was sitting with her eyes closed.
“Yes, Safi, that’s true. When the time comes, it will be a child who will save us.” Trinidad stated firmly.
“I hope it’s soon.” Safi said. “What are you going to do with this?” She asked, referring to the prophecy Trinidad had just dictated. “We should keep it somewhere safe.”
“It’s just a poem, dear.” She smiled sweetly, placing her hand on hers. “Everything is already set in motion. What happens now, will happen no matter where we keep it.”
“Oh! I know! We can put it up here next to Hiassem.” Safi said, reaching up on her tiptoes and setting the paper on the mantle next to the small statue of the lion god. “It’ll be safe there.” She smiled.
“That’s a perfect place.” Trinidad said, nodding. She tilted her head up, as the smell of curry filled her nostrils. “That smells wonderful.”
“Thank you, it’s almost ready.” Napreet said. “Everyone wash your hands for dinner.”
They all washed their hands and Safi helped her mother prepare the meal for service. The kitchen was tiny, and served the dual purpose of prep and dining room, so the table had to be cleaned off before it could be set. Bowls were ladled out for everyone, and Ramesh commented on how well mannered Riley was. They all sat on a melange of furniture in various styles, high-backed, wickerwork, bamboo, whatever was comfortable and available. And the table was set in similar fashion with nothing matching, a beautiful jumble of utensils and serving dishes, whatever they had been able to find or barter for among the traders.
“Mmmmm, this is delicious, Napreet.” Trinidad mentioned immediately, savoring the flavor of the dish.
“Thank you, Ms. Trinidad. I’d been looking forward to making it for some time now. I’m happy we were able to share it with you. You came at the perfect time.” Napreet said smiling.
Riley nodded happily as he ate. Obviously enjoying the meal.
“You mentioned traders coming through, Ramesh. Do they come by often?” Trinidad asked casually.
“Yes, they come by quite regularly. This is a popular spot along the Spice Road.” Ramesh explained.
“The Spice Road?” She asked.
“Yes. A network of barter towns, trading posts, caves and valleys that exist to provide food and other essentials for people like myself and our family.” Ramesh said.
“It’s really just a bunch of hovels and rundown farms, most of them underground, where merchants and scavengers smuggle goods back and forth.” Kabir stated.
Ramesh looked at his son and back at Trinidad. “Kabir traveled with them last month, so now he is an expert.” Ramesh added. “He makes it sound so sleazy. But, without the Spice Road, many families would not survive.”
“We not only survive, we thrive. But, we have chosen a valuable location here on the outskirts of the city.” Napreet finished.
“You said Kabir traveled with them? Do they allow visitors?” Trinidad asked.
“It was more of a learning experience. A trade master will pick people to become spotters for their caravan. Kabir was hoping to be chosen. But, he’s got a lot to learn first.” Ramesh indicated looking to his son. “He’s very stubborn.”
Kabir scowled at the open reproof his father gave him.
“When do you expect them to come by next?” Trinidad asked Kabir.
“The one I traveled with will be back in a few days. They come by every other week.” Kabir said.
“I wonder, would you speak to them on my behalf and ask if I could travel with them? Myself and Riley?”
“I can do that for you. But, just so you know, it’s not an easy trip. They travel through the wastelands under harsh conditions, and you’ll be required to carry a heavy pack. You may even see some alien airships. It can be very dangerous.” Kabir explained.
“If you could introduce us, I would be very grateful.” Trinidad responded.
Ridley, Leo and Lagos walked the pathways through the parks and across the city arriving at the medical building. Everyone was astonished at seeing the Chief Cleric. He cut a regal figure in his long coat, scarf and persona. He had chosen to continue wearing it until after the council meeting. It would not be prudent to change the customs so abruptly without first going through the proper channels, even he wasn’t so brazen as to do that. He was already being labeled a dissident by the elders, no need to add the laity to that list.
“You have one of our Sentinella here.” Lagos spoke to one of the nurses.
“Yes sir, you’re expected. You can follow me.” The head nurse said. She got up and walked off beckoning them to follow her. She turned back to the Chief Cleric as she led them to Urso’s room. “It’s such an honor to have you here, Lord. I never thought I’d be this close to you.”
“I’m just a man. Soon, you’ll see the truth of that.” Leo stated. “There’s going to be some changes around here. I think you’ll be very pleased with them.” He said kindly.
“Oh, that’ll be nice. Thank you. It’s just this way.” The nurse continued leading the way down the hall finally coming to the room. “He’s just in here, Lord.”
They entered the room and found Urso lying in bed recovering from his wounds.
“Urso, what happened?” Leo asked him.
“It was Oso, he overwhelmed us. He killed Gammon and Boz, throwing them over the sewer platform. He set Trinidad and Riley free before I was able to stop him and take him into custody.” Urso explained.
“Where is Oso now?”
“I brought him to the jailer. He’s in the citadel prison.”
“Who else knows about this?”
“Nobody, Lord. That’s why I asked to speak to you personally. I didn’t think this should wait, either. Otherwise, I would have come to you myself.”
“You did the right thing, Urso. Thank you for bringing this to my attention without alerting the masses. It was good that you kept it a secret.” Leo said. “Please get well, Urso. You are my finest guard. I shall see to it that you get rewarded for your valor.”
“Oh no, Lord, there’s no need for that. I was just doing my duty. Your thanks is all I require.” Urso stated.
“Fine. Well, I’m proud of you. When you’re healed, come see me straight away.” Leo finished, and turned to exit the room Lagos in tow.
The pair headed out of the medical building and across the campus of the facility when Leo asked, “Anything about that seem odd to you?”
“Odd sir?” He asked of his sovereign.
“How did Oso overpower Gammon and Boz before Urso was able to stop him? It doesn’t make sense. Oso doesn’t seem like the type to stage a coup of that magnitude. Nor does he have the motive.” Leo stopped walking for a moment. “I want to have Urso followed. Starting now. Lagos, you go back into the hospital and keep an eye on him, I’ll send some people I trust to relieve you.” Leo headed back to the citadel.
“Where are you going, Lord?” Lagos inquired.
“To talk to Oso. I want his side of the story.” Leo informed his initiate as he walked off through the courtyard.