TWO YEARS LATER
In order to understand our god, you have to understand our temple first. It's called the Oegon, pronounced "EE-gon" or often "ER-gon," especially by the Masked Ones who live there. I've done some studying, and its name comes from two words meaning "eye" and "shape". When you finish walking down the stone entrance hallway and enter the Oegon itself, you'll see why.
When I first did, I could only gasp, because it was the most beautiful building I'd ever seen! Light poured through seven big windowpanes, one on each side of the Oegon except for one. The eighth side was reserved for its two doors, which were heavy and made almost all out of glass. The wood in these doors only served for strong frames, like the ones for pictures. Because my friends and I were still children, the Masked Ones told us that we could never slam these doors, even though the glass was said to be warded. "Be very careful, for the eyes of the Faceless are upon you."
The windows and doors were like eyes, and two of them were clouded over with strange etchings. When I stood in the middle of the Oegon with the other seven-year-olds in our city, I felt as if I were being watched from all sides. No matter where I looked, the sun streamed in, bathing me in its golden warmth. I felt safe and comfortable, even though the Masked Ones scared me a little. They were very still, standing like statues before us. I decided to hide behind the other children and peek out from behind them when our priests spoke. Were we all in trouble, or was this it?
"Good day, my children," said one of them, a tall man in a hooded robe. I could only see his mouth move because of his mask. No other parts of his face were visible, though the mask did have two tiny holes for his eyes and two even tinier holes for his nose. "I am Exarch of the Masked Ones. Sit." He gestured to the hard stone benches around us, which were cold to the touch. We obeyed, not even daring to whisper amongst ourselves because we were so in awe. Many of us were scared, and brought our thumbs toward our mouths involuntarily. However, seeing the Exarch again, we quickly dropped them to our sides. No shameful acts would we commit in this place!
"Do you know why you are here?" asked the Exarch, waiting for an answer.
One of my friends, a lively boy, raised his hand. "We're to be punished?"
I thought I heard the sound of soft laughter echoing throughout the Oegon.
"No," replied the Exarch, his lips forming a small smile. "None of you deserves punishment! It is time for you to learn about the Faceless and his ways, and that is why I've called you to the Oegon. For seven years, you were but babes, not truly understanding the difference between what is right, and what is wrong, in the eyes of our god. Now you've reached an age where you know these things, or are beginning to know them. Thus, you must be further taught." He turned to someone standing to his right. "High Priestess? Please fetch the scrolls for novices, and pass them out to these precious children."
A woman as graceful as a willow tree, and just as strong, bowed her head. She was also wearing a hood and a mask which covered everything but her mouth. Turning to leave, she soon returned with an armful of parchments.
"These are sacred scrolls," the Exarch announced, "protected by ritual so that they can never be torn or ripped to pieces. Open them now, and read aloud."
We did, and this is what was written in midnight-dark ink upon them:
EIGHT UTTERANCES FROM THE MAW OF THE FACELESS
All who follow me shall follow me alone.
All who follow me shall not claim statues bear my face, for I have none.
All who follow me shall treat one another as brothers and sisters in me.
All who follow me shall not steal from anyone, even those who lack belief.
All who follow me shall not murder anyone, even those who lack belief.
All who follow me shall remain true to their husband or wife.
All who follow me shall not lie in order to have anyone else condemned.
All who follow me shall seek my face, even though I am Faceless.
When we had finished reading, the Exarch asked us: "Do you understand?"
I raised my hand timidly: "Exarch? How do we do that last part?"
Again, that small smile. "By following his teachings, child: obeying every word spoken through his Maw, and through the mouths of his Masked Ones."
I see... "Is it true that you're the only ones who can hear him?"
"Yes." The Exarch's voice was firm and final. "That is why we are Masked, so that we can be blessed with the power to hear him. Ours is a life of sacrifice, because it is not easy to know our god so very closely. If you wish to do so, then come up to me, one by one, and the High Priestess will anoint your forehead with holy oil. Before you do this, however, state your intent."
"Hmm?" Another friend of mine spoke, who didn't know what that meant.
The High Priestess explained: "Tell the Faceless that you'll seek his face."
My friend nodded frantically, and she was the first to stand before the Exarch. "I'll seek your face!" she cried, her voice full of the joy that comes with understanding. The High Priestess traced a circle of oil upon my friend's seven-year-old forehead with her index finger, and gently filled it in.
"My turn!" yelled the boy who'd spoken before. He practically ran up to the Exarch, who held up his hand to warn him to walk more slowly. "I'll seek your face!" He squirmed under the High Priestess' touch, which was natural because he was always boisterous. The rest of us tried not to laugh.
One after another, we repeated these words and received our anointing.
Something troubled me, though: If the Faceless' name was true, then why did the Exarch keep looking us children directly in the eye when we said our vows? Even though the Exarch seemed to have none--only darkened slits in his mask--the look of his veiled visage was unsettling. That was why, when my turn came, I shut my eyes and let the Oegon's silent darkness enfold me.
"I'll seek your face." I kept my eyes closed as the High Priestess smeared oil with a musky scent upon my forehead. Only then did I open them. As I returned to my seat upon the stone bench, I felt eyes upon me, but not the windows of the Oegon, which were the eyes of the Faceless...