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*****


Stained glass rattled in the leaded frame of the dome above Dreslya as the storm hovered to the north of Brookhollow, growling and increasing its intensity. Though the high shutters had been closed against the wind, she still shivered in the chill that permeated the temple in spite of all attempts to make things seem normal. She stared at the base of Savras's statue, unable to pull her gaze away from the streaks of brown that had dried into the stone after Nivael's strange and gruesome death. Until then, only the old and infirm had been threatened by the fatality of the blush. Denial now filled the halls of the temple like a hushed secret thrashing against constraints-unspoken, but known and feared. Candles had been lit along the walls. They added to the shadows and whispers that crawled and floated from one person to the next, scurrying away to hide as Sameska and the oracles walked by, making their way to the inner chamber behind the sanctuary. Dreslya had not been summoned to gather with the others, but Baertah had arrived at her chamber to escort her to the sanctuary. Sameska desired her presence, he'd told her. She had no doubt what the high oracle wished to address. "Tragic, is it not?"

Dreslya jumped, looking up from the dried remains of Nivael's blood to find Sameska at her side. "Do not be so frightened, child. Surely you have nothing to fear here? Nothing to hide, perhaps?" Shaken and somewhat uncomfortable under Sameska's scrutiny, Dres did not reply.

Whatever the high oracle had called her for was most likely already known. Dres had no desire to play Sameska's game of rhetorical questions. Though she and the other oracles were priestesses and clerics of Savras, his was predominantly a faith of diviners and wizardly magic. Though able to call upon his power in prayer and meditation, it was in the Weave of magic where their true strengths lay. Noting Dreslya's refusal to take her bait, Sameska continued more directly. "Why did you not inform us immediately of your sister's absence and purpose?" "I merely found a note, High Oracle. I did not open the town gates for her. She was gone and nothing could be done."

"The tone in your voice seems to say otherwise, child." She drew out the last word, as if to emphasize Dreslya's place in the order of things. Sameska was not accustomed to accepting even a hint of insolence from her lessers. Dres quavered beneath what she now observed as madness in Sameska's eyes. Where there had once been an admittedly haughty yet wise countenance was now a fanatical dementia.

Dark circles sagged beneath the high oracle's eyes and her face was drawn and tense. "My tone does not change the fact, High Oracle.

Elisandrya made her own decision." "A decision that you knew about! A decision that threatens the lives of us all, that denies the very will of Savras and his prophecy!" Sameska was livid, shaking with rage, more emotional than Dreslya had ever seen her. The young oracle looked away hopelessly, lost in confusion and knowing full well that reason was a futile tactic at this point. She could hear Baertah huffing in wordless and derisive agreement to Sameska's accusations, and she could almost feel his sneer of self-righteousness burning into the back of her head. Straightening her robes and fixing her disheveled hair, Sameska softened her stare to a mild look of stern command. "We have gathered here for five generations to venerate the teachings of Savras, to be carriers of truth and visions of what may come. You have kept truth from your sisters, and this is not acceptable. "Dreslya Loethe, I banish you from attending the Council of the Hidden Circle this night, and until such time as your wayward sister returns to Brookhollow to face judgment before her peers. As Elisandrya is most likely already the victim of her own actions, I do not expect to see you at the council again." Sameska turned away and disappeared behind the curtained alcove at the edge of the altar's dais, slamming the inner chamber's door behind her. Dreslya's quiet fears for her sister were revealed in Sameska's words. She wept, heedless of Baertah's rolling eyes and disinterested sigh as he left her alone in the sanctuary. She was more alone than he knew. She felt the final loss of her family descend on her shoulders and bear her to the floor.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN | Bloodwalk | *****