Author’s Comment: You know, I was wondering why Chapter Three was so short! Because I am writing way ahead of posting and somehow completely missed this huge swath of text. I am very sorry! The index to the right has all the posts in the correct order if you need to review.
Avatar Penniford was in his room. He waited there with dread to keep him company as he rehearsed the lie in his mind. The god shifted in his thoughts, the red weight of his silent regard ponderous and foreboding. Penniford did not dare reach for reassurance today. He sat very still and straight upon his bed in the catacombs and took what reassurance he could from his own sense of justice.
He wondered how long it would take for the god to forgive him. He wondered if he ever would be forgiven. He had never crossed the god before. No one he knew had.
He argued with himself, furious. He had not crossed the god; he would still search for the Priest, as commanded by the god himself. He had interrupted the mortal plans for conducting the search, a beastly abuse of the responsibility of the Avatars to bring people to the god.
He was not guilty. And yet, he dare not touch the god, nor did the god wake in his mind. The god sat in the back of his brain and watched through Penniford’s eyes, as he had all this day. The constant, unfailing regard brought all Penniford’s sensible, logical thoughts to ruin, and he dared not touch the god and he needed to so desperately that he moved to hold his head in his hands to keep it from breaking apart.
“‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ But you do not look comforted, Avatar,” a voice said. Penniford looked up to see Veran Argosis standing in the door of his room.
“There is no comfort I will find in you,” Penniford sneered, long habit sustaining him.
Veran did not look insulted. “No? Well, you are no doubt correct. I fear I am the bearer of bad tidings.”
“You are always an ill-omen, Veran. Disaster haunts your footsteps. I will have none of your brand of mischief or bad luck; leave off your haunting of my door, please.”
Veran regarded Penniford silently, his false joviality gone. He entered into the room to crouch in front of the Avatar.
“That was a good thing you did today,” he said to Penniford, very softly, even respectfully. “I had always thought you a just man. I am delighted to have been proven right.”
“I am not you,” Penniford said. “I do not twist the tail of the god out of spite. Do not think you have found a compatriot to join in your addle-headed games of defiance.”
“You should thank the god you are not me. In any case, I have always admired you. You didn’t know, but I saw you after the Killing Freeze. I saw the mark it made on your soul, and I hoped for you. I do not pray anymore, but I hoped. And today you have fulfilled my hopes. I came to thank you, for doing what I could not.”
“Why could you not?” Penniford asked. “If you wanted to, why did you not just do it?”
“Ah,” Veran said, with a small twist of smile, “because I am Cornelius’s best friend. He has such high hopes for me. I’m sure he prays for the redemption of my soul nightly. And so I am trapped.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s of no matter,” Veran said, shaking off his melancholy and his kindness. “I came here to thank you, and so I shall. You have to leave. They are coming for you.”
He’d been practicing. “I’ve been in my room all day.”
Veran looked amused. “The god always watches, Penniford. Sometimes, he’s a nasty little tattle.”
“If I am forced to do penance for my trespasses, than I shall do it,” Penniford said.
“Oh, Avatar,” Veran said, like a curse. “Are wise men always so blind to the true nature of things? They come to kill you, Penniford, not punish you! You’ve turned against them, and there is no redemption in their eyes.”
“I have not gone against the god!” Penniford yelled.
“They are the god,” Veran said. “Haven’t you seen that yet?”
“Get out,” Penniford said.
“You have to leave.”
“I won’t,” Penniford snapped. “I won’t subscribe to your view of the god.”
“Not the god,” Veran replied. “The man. Can you truly doubt his ruthlessness now?”
“I must,” Penniford said. Or I will condemn myself along with him.
Veran bowed his head. “May your god see in you the honor that I do.”
And he was gone. Penniford cursed him for leaving behind his doubt and riddles. He’d never liked the man, even before the god, when he was an Ovid.
He hadn’t crossed the god. There would be retribution, from the men. But not the god. He believed it, in his heart.
“Avatar Penniford,” a new voice said at his door. Penniford looked up to find Cornelius before him.
“Avatar,” Penniford said, warily.
“I came to pay my respects,” Cornelius said. Penniford felt the blood drain from his face.
“I was in my room all day,” he said, and even though he had practiced, it came out shaky and diffuse.
“The god rewards his chosen,” Cornelius said. “Surely you didn’t forget?” He crossed the distance, and leaned down to kiss the other man on the forehead.
“Goodbye, Avatar,” he said, and then he left.
Sweat poured down Penniford’s face, and the chill it left behind was so deep he felt unable to move from his spot on the bed. Frantic, he touched the god in his mind. The red Presence boiled and fulminated, but it did not open. The god had no comfort to offer. He pleaded, babbling in his mind, but the Presence was closed to him.
This had to be Veran’s fault. It was his blessing, the curse that had turned his fellow Avatar’s against him. The taint of Veran’s kindness burned on him with a bitter smell of fear. He pushed himself off the bed, and forced his cold, cramped muscles into motion. He had to get out. Damn Veran! He lurched for the door, working blood back into his limp left arm when he ran into something solid standing in the way.
“Avatar Penniford,” Littleton intoned. “You have done a great evil that must be atoned for.”
“No,” Penniford said, falling back away from the shadow of death. “It was Veran, he made me–”
“The god knows the inner workings of your mind, Avatar. He has whispered your thoughts to me. Your treacherous, traitorous thoughts.”
“I’ve been–” Penniford panted, “in my room–”
“May the god be kind to you in your afterlife, Penniford,” Littleton said as he drew out a curved knife hidden in his robes, “for your afterlife will never be the same as mine.”
Penniford screamed as the knife came down, clutching in his head for the god. The red Presence left him entirely as the knife plunged into his waiting throat.
Mirrored from Oasis Stories.