This is written as part of my NanoWrimo 2020 Compendium of Completion.
The Lesser High Priest of Evening bowed down as deeply as he could. “I beg your pardon, your holiness. I cannot-”
“Perhaps I can make it clear.” The menace was clear despite the sweet tone. “Transom Achares, I am speaking with these people here, with this – this Lesser High Priest of Evening–?”
“Sparrow Teleme, your holiness.”
“With Sparrow Teleme. And with these two duty scribes, this handmaiden, and these acolytes. The information I choose to impart to them – or to ask from them – is my business, and is beyond protocol. Do you understand this, Transome Achares? I am the god Eralon and I will speak when and where I want to. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
While the oracle had been speaking in a voice which suggested divinity before, this voice was, without question, divine. It shook Sparrow Teleme – it shook the Lesser High Priest of Evening down to his boots.
One of the duty scribes passed out. The handmaiden squeaked.
The Lead Lesser High Priest whimpered as his nose leaked blood. “I do – I do not understand, your most bright light. I cannot understand. The protocols are handed down from you yourself. From the gods themselves. The protocols are how we maintain order in this place. The protocols are of the gods!” Blood dripped down his face, ignored.
“The protocols are – explain.”
“It says so in the book of Callorme, most bright one. It says that the gods handed down the order of the ways and the hierarchy of the priesthood so that things might continue in a sensible manner. It says that this is the way!”
The god’s voice had taken on a dangerous tone, a tone which the Lead Lesser High Priest seemed to be oblivious to.
The Lesser High Priest of Evening answered carefully. “There are three books of Callorme, most brilliant light. These ones were dictated to three scribes by the prophet Callorme, who himself was an early priest in the Order. It is from his books that we get most of the structure of the priesthood and many of the titles and names of our priests and the others here in the service to you and the other gods.”
There was a rumble that changed the tone of the oracle’s voice from light and quiet to dark and deep. This time, even the Lead Lesser High Priest noticed and took a step back. Sparrow Teleme took a move braver than he thought he was and stepped forward.
“That is as we have been told, your brightness, your most holy. Callorme conveyed the words of Kokaru, from Fazemis, from Afekosiil… and from you, your brightness.”
“Callorme, also called – before his ascension to the priesthood – Gherick Dorunson, of the town of Smallriver, on the edge of the Fazemia Mountains, who came here to the Grand Temple in the seventeenth year of his life because he was seeing the words of the gods in his sleep, which would have been the seventeenth year of the second Kokarun cycle, the year before the flood which destroyed three cities on our western coast and washed away much of Smallriver and its neighboring towns.” He might be babbling, but the Lesser High Priest of Evening thought if he could perhaps – what, jog the god’s memory? Gods, they were told – although not by Callorme – did not forget.
“The flood. That was the flood which washed away Ton-Foren, yes?”
“Yes, your most brilliant.”
“Callorme – Gherick. I remember Gherick.”
The tone was no less dangerous and no more pleased.
The scribe who had fainted had sat up again.
“I beg your pardon, your most brilliant light-” Sparrow turned to the handmaiden. “Please go and find the best copy of the books of Callorme you can, and please have them send in another scribe and, if you could, food and water for all of us. And perhaps a chair for yourself and one for the Lead Lesser High Priest.” He had a feeling it was going to be a long night. “Your most brilliant light, I propose that we read to you the books of Callorme. But I also propose that we have weak and mortal bodies, and that we must care for them.”
“The books of Callorme are sacred,” the Lead Lesser High Priest mumbled. “They are given to us by the gods.”
“They were given to you by someone.”
The oracle’s voice no longer sounded anything like her own. Somewhere in the back of the Lesser High Priest of Evening’s mind, something he had read early in his training was trying to make itself seen.
He couldn’t quite get to it, not with the god breathing down his neck, as it were.
“The books were given to us by someone.” He grabbed onto the words that he could follow, even if they were nothing compared to the echoes in his mind. “But, you are saying, not by you.”
“Not by me, no. There is a possibility that another god gave them to you. I will accept this might have happened. But I find it unlikely. You will read these books to me, and you will tell me everything of your structure here, everything you believe was gods-given. Everything.”
“That, ah. That will take quite a while, your most brilliant light. It is going to take days, at the very least.”
He hesitated as the thought he’d been reaching for finally came to him. “And, your most brilliant light, one oracle cannot take the might of a god for that long. You will destroy her mind. You will render her less than an animal. It has happened before, in the times before we had the books of Callorme, whoever they came from. And I would honestly rather that it not happen again.”
“We can?” Eralon paused. “Why is that? What is it about this vessel that makes her unable to contain Me for any length of time?” He didn’t seem to be interested in an answer, instead falling silent for several minutes. “Ah,” he finally said. “That is very unfortunate indeed. When did this happen?”
“As far as I know, it has always been thus, your most brilliant self. The Oracles are as strong as we can find, but they cannot take the presence of the god for too long.”
“Well, then. You have other oracles, yes? Bring forth several, and I will move between then on the hours, if hours you do indeed still have.”
The god sounded so dry and irate at that point that the Less High Priest of Evening was more than a little afraid to find out what might happen if he had to tell the god no. Luckily for him, in this case, he did not; he sent the handmaiden, as soon as she returned from her other errands, to call on all of the oracles who were then awake, and to then have the others called for when their shift for wakefulness began.
He hoped it would be enough. They had twelve oracles. That had been considered an exorbitant number not that long before, and the reason why the oracle here now was also serving as a handmaiden.
They waited, the oracle saying nothing, nobody saying anything. The Lesser High Priest of Evening had in front of him all of the books of Callorme, but he was loathe to start reading, because he did not want Eralon to become distracted and forget that he could harm his vessel.
The silence had gone on long enough to be truly uncomfortable when the god cleared the oracle’s throat.
“How long did it take to discover that a lengthy visitation by a god could destroy the being the god inhabited?”
“It was long before my time, most holy, but from what I recall – three decades. The gods do not, as you may have noticed, often visit for all that long. There is also – ah. Well.”
He had not meant to take the conversation in that direction, certainly not with the Lead Lesser High Priest still sitting there glaring at him and at everyone else.
“Yes?” the god murmured.
“There is the question of when the oracles are actually possessed by a god. We do take down everything they say when they are in the chair.” He gestured to the duty scribes. “But very rarely do the gods make themselves as clearly known as you have in past days, and thus, we may have missed the signs because the oracles, when on the chair, often sound unclear, and the oracles sound similarly unclear whether possessed by a god or not.”
“You’re saying that Our Vessels are treated as the word of the gods whether or not the god identifies themselves?”
“Well, most brilliant light, the gods very rarely do identify themselves.”
The ground was slipping out from under the Lesser High Priest of Evening. He thought he might need to faint. What if everything he had been told came from the gods did not? What if their entire faith was based on the mad ramblings of drug-addled women?
How could he think that anything else would be the gods’ voice when what the gods sounded like was so clear in front of him?
“Easy, easy friend Sparrow. Someone, do get him a chair! Friend Sparrow, I believe you are beginning to think in directions that are – well, sensible but not correct.”
Someone put a chair behind him and pushed it until he sat down; he fell limply into the chair and looked up at the god.
“Your – your most brilliant one?”
“I am, yes. And you are thinking, I believe, that if many things that you have read and believed to be true are not, then what things are true?”
“Something – something like that, yes, your most brilliant.”
“Then I believe we will have to do a more complete review. It is time – past time – for such a thing. Words can be misinterpreted, after all, and using prophets is more tricky than using oracles, but as you mentioned, there are issues with oracles. We will tell you the truth of things, my friend, and I believe that you will not find it to be nearly as troublesome as you are worried. but for now-”
The oracle stepped down off of her chair and walked to the Lesser High Priest of Evening. She put a thumb on his forehead.