The wind began to shift the flakes of scree around his knees, their skittering passage underscoring the priestess's impatience. He looked up once more, their acid-hued eyes burning away his nerve.
"Are you your mother’s child, Sachiin?"
"I am." he replied.
"I ask again. Where is your brother Kala'amātya?" She spoke the name with violent distaste.
"My brother is by the lake." he murmured finally.
"Go now with our daughter Nyāti."
He fell in behind their acolyte, following her along a shallow, stony cirque cut by a watershed stream. Sachiin stared at the back of her clay-dressed coiffure, the endless black coils of her braids carefully daubed with white, though bare of the ornament worn by the elder members of the Sthali'sātva sisterhood. Formal distance had grown between them since her induction into their junior ranks, curtailing their exchanges. Over his shoulder, the Sthali'sātva disappeared from the ridge in the opposite direction, descending toward the tarn of his description. He tightened the waist of his dark robe, breaking from his companion to leap the stream and lope uphill, working himself into the cloven granite of an outcrop and watching the sacerdotal conclave through a split in the stone as they moved in stately, foreboding unison.
Far deeper than it was wide, the water of the tarn was darkly stained by a seam of nameless ore. As a mirror to the night sky it was reserved as the venue of recondite lunar observances, but his brother transgressed the prohibition with such regularity that the priestesses had finally apprehended him. They gathered on the shore to await his emergence. Sachiin's companion attempted to preserve decorum as she joined him in the narrow fissure. He glanced back into her golden eyes.
"Remember your star, Sachiin, and give thanks that you are not your brother." she whispered.
Two darker figures had accompanied the Sthali'sātva, mute and wreathed in drab black homespun, standing like commanded shadows behind the priestesses while the wind fretted the waters with lines of silky corrugation. Kala'amātya rose from it like something born out of its proscribed depths, his black braid settling on his back and merging with the pattern inscribed over its skin. He took up his robe and tied it about himself.
"Why does he love the water more than us?" Sachiin wondered.
"Ana'siām'ilye warns that we should not look for virtue in those made without it." Nyāti promised.
"Will they not beat him and be satisfied?"
"If you are to meet again, it will be where he is going... you cannot wish that." she told him, deploring the idea. "Say nothing of what you have seen."
By the lake, the dark male figures took up their places on either side of Kala'amātya, walking before the priestesses from the lonely stretch of water. Exile had settled on him as though his shadow had been shorn from his feet and tied about him like a shroud, transformed like the outcasts flanking him and sent toward perdition in the wastes that lapped the mountains. His brother's face, already harder than wind-harrowed stone, was crossed by the scars of punitive strokes, so intrinsic to him that they might have been innate deformity; his eyes saw nothing but what lay before him, ears deaf to admonition. The sullen veterans escorting him did so at a careful distance from his person. Sachiin glanced back at Nyāti.
"If he is not made to abide with us... could it be that he is destined for some other purpose?" he ventured softly, hoping she would support his naive logic with the dharma to which she had been admitted. She could not oblige him.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
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