Join Date: Aug 2011
Current Game: Arcanum
Another bolt of lightning split the air, and I buried my head in the High Priestess' shoulder. She gave me one more long hug, just as Mother would have done if she were here right now. "Our Exarch was once one of eight, a humble Masked One like myself. He went about his duties to this city with compassion and true loving-kindness toward others, being one of the faces of the Faceless. Yet, around the time a new Exarch was to be selected, something changed in him."
I rolled my eyes. "Let me guess: he wanted to be chosen, and turned cruel!"
With her mask mercifully back in place, the High Priestess nodded. "Yes, and it was far worse than that. He claimed to be the only one, even out of all of us Masked Ones, to be able to truly hear the Faceless. Therefore, he ought to be ordained as Exarch, and was. The most terrible thing about this, however, was the method he used to prove his worth. He--he made it rain for months on end, and claimed the Faceless had abandoned and cursed us! At the time, however, I sincerely believed that our god had forsaken this city. I didn't even suspect the Exarch's cunning, or his power. All of our prayers were utterly useless, because the Faceless did not speak to us--or so we thought."
Holding up my hand, I said, "Wait! What about the Virtuous Eight? Why did the Exarch call for offerings of highest faith, if he himself is the one who can start and stop the rain? Is he simply throwing us into the Maw for nothing?"
A chilling smile spread across the High Priestess' lips. "Not for nothing, child. You cannot have known this, but all of the others who stepped forward besides you are those who feel most guilty about grumbling against the Exarch and his rule. The thirty-two extra commandments are his and his alone: he wrote them without the aid of the Faceless' revelations! These rules, the Exarch says, are meant to bring us closer to our god, but they separate us from him further. No one knows this, save me, because I--" She stopped abruptly. "Will you believe me if I tell you I can hear him?"
"Of course! You're a Masked One, aren't you? You're supposed to do that..."
"No. I mean actually hear him."There was a three-second pause between these last two words. "My seven fellows believe that I am mad."
The rain poured down in sheets. "Is that why you can't do anything against the Exarch?" The High Priestess nodded. "Does he want to hurt you?" She nodded again. "Why would he trust you with me, then, if he's so evil?"
She leaned and whispered into my ear: "He wished for me to Mask you."
"You mean for me to lose my face?!" My cry echoed through the U'um.
"Yes. That is how you were to be made holy enough to cast yourself into the Maw, but I'm not going to do it. Instead, I'm going to tell you the final secret of the Exarch's reign of terror. This call for offerings of highest faith is not the first one, as you know. It's not even the second one, or third. Our current Exarch was ordained when he was twenty-four years old, and now he's eighty-eight. That means that this is the eighth cycle of slaughter."
I blinked. I couldn't believe what I was hearing! What had happened to the comfort of our faith, the warmth and safety of the Oegon, and the peace I'd always felt at services? Were they all lies? Apparently so, but why? Why had the Exarch chosen to send sixty-four brave souls to meet our deity, who had possibly never spoken with the highest of the Masked Ones at all?
"Every eight years, the storms come. Every eight years, our city seethes, and there are murmurs of unrest. Every eight years, certain people wish to see our Exarch cast down, and these are always the ones who volunteer. Fear is one of the most powerful forces in this world, child, and guilt is its silent partner. Redemption is a desire that lies in all our hearts, for all of the things we've done wrong. However, that doesn't mean we deserve the Maw or its aim!"
"What is its aim?" I'd wet myself a little, though I was fully privy-trained.
"Death." The High Priestess' voice was soft yet adamant.